Ahead of the final race before the summer break, Honda has broken their silence and come forward to start explaining why the reliability of the 2017 engine is as poor as it is. The programme has been plagued with issues since the start of the season, and at the half way point of 2017 it is not looking much better for the Japanese engine manufacturer.
McLaren-Honda only have 2 points in the constructors championship, courtesy of a ninth-place finish from Fernando Alonso in Azerbaijan. At this point in Honda’s first season (2015) McLaren-Honda had 5 points on the board. It is safe to say that the three-year old project is not performing as it should be.
This can be contributed to the fact that Honda completely redesigned their engine for this season, as the engine token system that had prevented them from making many changes had been scrapped. But the complete change of design appears to have pushed Honda back two years in their program. The first half of the 2017 season has been very reminiscent of the torrid times for the team in 2015 where getting two cars over the line at the end of the race was a rare showing.
Honda representatives have come out this week and stated that it was clear there were big issues with the power unit from pre-season testing, but these issues were not revealed until the engines were put in the cars. Published onto Honda’s website, Honda chief, Yusuke Hasagawa, has confirmed the main issue that have been plaguing Honda’s engine development.
The main issue seems to have come from the fact that the dyno that the engine were tested on was incapable of simulating the conditions for the engine running in a Formula One car, meaning that the vibrations and g-forces that the engine came under in pre-season testing were too much for the engine to cope with.
A worrying statement from Honda is that they knew before the season started that the engine would be down on power. However, had that have been the only thing Honda needed to sort out it would have been a much simpler fix (you would hope). A car down on power can, at least, race. A car that will not run due to component failures cannot be raced, and this is the current situation Honda is dealing with.
The second big issue that Hasagawa highlights in Honda’s statement is the vibrations, something that has been spoken about in the press a lot recently. With a much lower level of inertia when the engine is in the car compared to the dyno, more vibrations go through the engine which is causing parts failures. The dyno simulations are expected to generate a higher inertia but the difference between simulations and actually putting the engine in the car was larger than Honda anticipated.
It appears that the dyno may be the cause of the turmoil in Honda and McLaren at the moment, as the pre-season simulations and simulations that are being done to the upgraded engine and parts are generating results that are not being reflected in the car. A small leeway can be given for slight differences in a simulation and the real thing, but it seems that the simulation data Honda is generating on their dyno is not useful and more unhelpful than helpful.
Despite all the issues that Honda is facing, they still believe that their engine can be successful and are pushing hard throughout the year to get it to the standard it needs to be. The team are hoping to bring a ‘Spec 4’ engine to a race in the future, but considering the inconsistency of simulation data and real-track data and the long delay that McLaren suffered for the latest engine update, it is unknown when this will be coming into play.
Honda’s dreadful third year in the program has potentially damage it’s future in Formula One. A deal had been struck with Sauber for the Swiss team to run Honda engines next year, but since the change in management at Sauber that deal could fall through. It is no secret that McLaren have been looking for a way out of their Honda contract, looking for a new provider for their 2018 engines. However, it looks like McLaren may be stuck, with Mercedes and Ferrari coming out last week and claiming that they had no interest in supplying McLaren with engines. If true, McLaren’s only option would be Renault.
Fernando Alonso has also made it clear that if serious steps are not made at McLaren next year, he will not be renewing his contract with the team. It looks like McLaren may be crossing its fingers for Honda to make a step up over the winter break whilst Alonso could be sporting yellow race overalls next year.