The Motor Sport Month - Formula 1 News
Honda tipped for McLaren
Woking team's Mercedes link in doubt, By Adam Cooper
The famed McLaren-Honda partnership is set to return to Formula 1 in 2015, potentially leaving the team's current engine partner Mercedes in a difficult position.
Honda has been rumoured for some time to be working on a 1.6-litre turbo for the new Fl regulations, and a reunion with McLaren is the logical option for both parties.
McLaren's relationship with Mercedes has changed since the Stuttgart manufacturer bought and rebadged Brawn as its works team, and sold its shareholding in the Woking outfit. Further tension has been added to the relationship between McLaren and Mercedes by Paddy Lowe's impeding move, which comes soon after Lewis Hamilton's decision to switch camps.
McLaren now not only has to pay for its engines, but misses out on the benefits of being the supplier's main focus. With the turbo era making the latter even more critical, a Honda works arrangement has obvious appeal, with their joint history being a welcome marketing bonus.
Honda meanwhile has always justified its racing programmes by using them to train engineers and develop technology which could feed back into production vehicles, which is also in line with the FIA's reasoning behind the switch to turbos and the increased emphasis on energy recovery systems.
Handily, McLaren employs former Honda Fl driver Jenson Button, who was hugely popular with the management and has a high profile in Japan thanks to his personal links with the country.
Honda has been known to be working on its Fl project for some time, but its target is 2015 — the second year of the new formula — leaving McLaren with Mercedes power for the first season. The two parties have a firm contract for 2014, but the following year is only covered by an option.
The problem for Mercedes is that it is obviously obliged to furnish McLaren with relevant data both in the build-up to the change of regulations and into 2014, and that has inevitably led to fears that Honda could benefit from the knowledge that McLaren has gained by operating its rival's engine.
Although teams have obviously changed partners in the past there has rarely been such a dramatic change of rules, where any information on what the competition is doing clearly has value.
Mercedes motor sport chief Toto Wolff told Motor Sport: "Certainly there's a bit of frustration because McLaren has been a great partner of Mercedes for many, many years.
"We're not 100 per cent sure they are going with Honda, so it's about really trying to find out what their strategy is. If they decide to switch it's not what we would have wanted, and we need to manage it carefully. You just hope that your partner treats you in the way that he would want to be treated as well."
Regarding the option to continue into 2015, he added: "We're just discussing what the date for that decision will be. It's not something that's causing us an immediate headache, it's just something that we need to resolve over the next couple of weeks."
Sutil back with a bang
Adrian Sutil made a spectacular return to Force India in Australia, leading for several laps after a good strategy call by his team.
Sutil was written off by many observers after he was dropped in favour of Nico Hillkenberg at the end of 2011, and the legal fallout of an incident in a Shanghai night club appeared to have further damaged any hopes he had of a comeback.
However he maintained his relationship with the team and was invited to test in Barcelona in February. His instant pace and positive attitude convinced the management to pick him over Ferrari-contracted Jules Bianchi, who subsequently took the unfunded Luiz Razia's place at Marussia.
Sutil had only two further test days to prepare for the season, but he insists that he never had any doubts about his fitness to return.
"I always took Raikkonen as an example," he told Motor Sport. "He was out of the sport two years, he's a similar age, and he got back. He was the most consistent driver in the field last year, won a race, and he's driving amazingly well now.
"For some people it might be a bit more difficult, but others maybe need the time to get the stress out of the body and re-set themselves. If you have a little different life and do something else, then you come back and maybe you're stronger. I feel much better in the car, much more energised, and happier. I hope that goes on like this, because you can really enjoy the sport much more."
No end to Lowe saga
Paddy Lowe's possible future role at Mercedes remains unclear, despite McLaren's confirmation that he is no longer its technical director, and will leave the team at the end of the year.
Lowe was headhunted by new Mercedes motor sport boss Toto Wolff for a team principal role, leading to some confusion about the future of current principal Ross Brawn when the story first broke in January.
Brawn later made it clear that Lowe would join the team if he left, stressing that it was not unusual to have a succession plan in place. Team sources now suggest that there could after all be room for Lowe to work with Brawn, alongside fellow 'star names' Bob Bell, Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis, all of whom have been technical directors up and down the F1 pitlane.
"Well, obviously that situation is not perfect," Toto Wolff said of the ongoing speculation ahead of the Australian Grand Prix. "We've discussed it and said Ross is the team principal, he's running the racing team, and this is how it's going to stay. We haven't even started the 2013 season. We feel right working together, we have a good spirit internally, and Paddy Lowe coming or not is just so far ahead it makes no sense to talk about it now.
"It's too early to say that he's coming. This is a complex process; it's not just that you hire somebody and that's it, off you go — discussions are ongoing. Paddy is a good guy. It's about fitting someone in the organisation, so it's not yet done."
Lowe has been succeeded at McLaren by Tim Goss — only the fifth man to hold the technical director job title after John Barnard, Gordon Murray, Adrian Newey and Lowe — and is in effect on gardening leave, making only occasional visits to Woking.
Technofile: A glance at developments from the Formula 1 pitlane
Lotus Bargeboards: Ten cars on the grid at the Australian Grand Prix used one-piece bargeboards, some with steps in the upper and lower edges. Lotus, however, has split theirs into four vanes with extra slots in the smaller rear vanes. The reason for this is that the bargeboards condition the airflow heading under the floor and around the sidepods. By splitting the aerodynamic device it allows the bargeboard to curve into a tighter radius and shed more vortices, which will drive more airflow to the back of the car in order to create more downforce.
Williams Brake Ducts: Some of the most aerodynamically inefficient parts of a Formula 1 car are the huge wheels and tyres. Two vortices are produced as air hits and then splits on the front face of the rubber and these interfere with the aerodynamics of the car.
In order to combat this Red Bull tried to blow air through the front axle last year. This was banned on a technicality, but Williams has a new solution that pushes air through a duct inside the hollow axle and through vents passing around the brake disc. These serve no cooling purpose, but instead aid the control of the front tyre wake.
By passing more air through the wheel the two vortices from the tyres are reduced. In addition their position can be altered, which improves the airflow off the front wing and prevents the tyre wake passing under the floor further back down the car.