McLaren's new engine supplier Honda believes they can match current pacesetters Mercedes upon their arrival in F1 next year.
With speculation the Japanese carmaker may look to debut its new V6 power unit at the young drivers test in Abu Dhabi just after the end of the season, Motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai confirmed that the November test will be too early for the unit to hit the track and instead the reunion of one of the sport's most successful partnerships will begin in Jerez next January.
Going to plan
With such a short amount of track time then before Honda participate in their first F1 race in seven years in Melbourne, some are concerned whether the high expectations people have can be met, but Arai was keen to emphasise that indeed preparations are going to plan.
“We are absolutely within our development plan. Our engine - or more precisely our power unit - is ready for a whole system check, but without the chassis. It will still need more time to bring the power unit and chassis together and then be able to run checks with the complete car,” he told the official Formula 1 website.
“In the next couple of weeks we will run simulations and at the beginning of next year we will start to run on the track - very likely at Jerez. That will very likely be the first time to show the whole car, the Honda engine and the McLaren chassis - the Honda McLaren.
“Right now there are no plans to collect data during the rest of 2014. Jerez will be the first time.”
Competitive from the off?
While there are high hopes a return to Honda power can lift McLaren out of their current slump, just how soon can the two parties expect to be competing at the front? After all, Honda will be entering the sport a year late compared to their soon-to-be rivals at Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari.
Add to that the fact those three suppliers will have the benefit of a year adjusting to the complex new units and will likely have overcome the teething problems they faced in pre-season testing this year.
For McLaren and Honda, however, they will be starting afresh so may likely end up losing track time compared to their rivals as they deal with the same problems seen this year.
Where Honda will benefit, compared to their rivals, is a year of overseeing the problems the three current suppliers faced and therefore can look to solve in early development plus extra time with unrestricted development of the V6 power unit whereas compared to those currently on the grid.
Certainly it will be very interesting to see where Honda fit in the pecking order of the four engine suppliers, the gap between Mercedes and the rest this year has been much larger than some had predicted despite the amount of time and resources the German carmaker had put in to their V6 unit.
Most believe the aim of winning races is potentially too higher bar for Honda and McLaren in their first season back together, but Arai believes his engine can be part of what he thinks will be a much tighter power battle next year.
“I have confidence that we will match Mercedes,” said Arai. “I think that the two other engine suppliers [Renault and Ferrari] will recover next season - I strongly believe that. And we will be there too.
“I trust - I am a firm believer - that we will win races next year. And that will send out a very positive signal for our brand on a global basis.”
For next year, McLaren will be the only team using the Japanese engine supplier, Lotus are the likely team to fill the void left by the Woking team. However, looking to the future, Honda will be constantly analysing their involvement in F1 and are not ruling out adding more teams to their supply list.
“In 2015 we don't have the plan to supply any team other than McLaren,” Arai confirmed. “In 2016 or after, if some teams or partners ask us to supply them too, we will take a look at that situation. But even in 2016 McLaren will be our main partner in F1.
"Even if we supply other teams from 2016 onwards our main focus will always be to win - to make the engine better through more data - and not necessarily to look at a return on investment. If you win that comes automatically.”
Also looking ahead, Honda is ruling out a full scale return of the works team that competed up until 2008. Indeed Arai said the carmaker was happy to focus on simply supplying engines, an area he claims as Honda's speciality.
By working with McLaren, Honda believes they are working with a team capable of producing a chassis that can take maximise the potential of their V6 power unit. Interestingly, however, the area of weakness for McLaren has been aerodynamics.
Last year the team went with a radical approach that severely backfired as they endured their worst season in decades and despite hopes of a swift turnaround in Melbourne have again found themselves struggling to maximise the potential of the superior Mercedes engine.
There is great excitement ahead of the McLaren- Honda reunion; however, if it can meet with expectation will be an intriguing story to follow.
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