McLaren Mission Control, 2017

“Grand Prix Driver” takes you inside McLaren’s nightmare final year with Honda

2017 F1 season

Posted on

| Written by

When McLaren agreed to give the creators of Grand Prix Driver a behind-the-scenes look at its preparations for 2017 they must have expected to have a positive story to tell.

The team went into the third year of its collaboration with Honda following two years of poor results but discernible progress. From ninth in the 2015 points table they rose three places in 2016.

Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, Interlagos, 2017
“Repairing the damage”: McLaren’s future after Honda
Year three for McLaren-Honda was when it was all supposed to come good. But we all know what happened: the team discovered in pre-season testing they were back to square one and an inevitable divorce followed.

Manish Pandey, executive producer of the superb 2010 Senna documentary, made the project a reality. The Grand Prix Driver team had access to the McLaren factory during the build-up to the first test and captured their dawning realisation of just how bad 2017 was going to be.

The story is teased out in a series of increasingly awkward realisations over the course of its four episodes. First the engine doesn’t fit. Then it won’t fire up. And the problems aren’t just on Honda’s side: McLaren discover several key parts will arrive too late for a planned Silverstone shakedown test, which has to be scrapped.

“It’s mildly out of control around the factory,” chief operating officer Simon Roberts admits to the cameras at this point. “I’ve never seen it quite as bad as this.”

Go ad-free for just £1 per month

>> Find out more and sign up

The nadir is reached in the final episode where the team finally take the car to Barcelona for testing. As F1 fans will remember, a series of oil pressure problems forces a string of power unit changes and Alonso struggled to complete more than a handful of laps at a time.

McLaren Car Assembly, 2017
McLaren ran into trouble before testing began
“We cannot test like this,” he tells the team after one run. “This is really a [censored] engine, a [censored] power unit, you know.”

Racing director Eric Boullier describes the test as “physically and mentally painful” and, back at the factory, worries Alonso will refuse to race. “He is going to say ‘ciao bello’,” he tells group chief operating officer Jonathan Neale. “He will not stay. I am 100% sure he will not stay.”

But it’s in a mass debrief later that Neale spells out the inevitable divorce, months before it became reality. “As far as I’m concerned the McLaren team had got the job done,” he tells the assembled staff.

“A line has been crossed. We need to find a new way, we need to find a new plan.”

It’s fascinating viewing for fans. But it could be an uncomfortable watch for those in Faenza.

Grand Prix Driver is available on Amazon Prime from February 9th. Look out for F1 Fanatic’s review of Grand Prix Driver this Sunday.

2018 F1 season

Browse all 2018 F1 season articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

Posted on Categories 2017 F1 season

Promoted content from around the web | Become a RaceFans Supporter to hide this ad and others

  • 28 comments on ““Grand Prix Driver” takes you inside McLaren’s nightmare final year with Honda”

    1. McLaren have mostly been at fault for the Honda debacle. I assume that little fact won’t be included in this movie? Losing the Mobil1 sponsorship, forcing Honda to enter a year earlier than they had to, size zero suggestion, etc.

      1. @Davy, I disagree. It is the responsibility of Honda to know what can be achieved in terms of turnaround and size restrictions. Partnerships, especially technology ones, are about discussion. If McLaren were pushing for something uneatable or counter-efficient, then Honda should have recognised it and objected on grounds of quality.

        I’m not giving McLaren a free pass here; I think a big mistake was to stipulate exclusive supply, thus restricting the amount of collected data, something which could only be beneficial for a new supplier. But mainly, I suspect there was a big culture gap between the two factories and their respective expertise, and perhaps Dennis relied far too much on his memories from the late 90’s.

        If Torro Rosso manage to bridge that gap successfully, Honda has every potential to produce good results according to their customer’s requests. But these need to be reasonable, and more importantly, well communicated.

      2. Mclaren should not be expected to totally sacrifice their chassis just because they have incompetent engine partner who can not adhere to their technical design limitations. In technical partnership you need to know which part goes where and how much space it can take. If you agree to something then you must do it because you think you can do it. If such thing that size zero exists (it is just a marketing term, come on!) then both parties must have agreed to go that way. Mclaren can not just say “we make really tiny car. Try to fit your engine there somewhere.”

        One of the annoying things about f1 is some of the fans who just take a new word they have no understanding what it means and then claim that new word is the one single reason why everything went bad. With ferrari it was the pullrod suspension and with mclaren honda it was ron dennis’ size zero (plot twist: ron dennis does not design cars at mclaren, never has). Ferrari had bad car design and pullrod is good design. Mclaren had lots of issues but by far their main issue was honda.

      3. Davy
        What has loosing the Mobil sponsorship or the size zero concept got to do with Honda just messing up 3 years of McLaren & their reputations? Honda were the senior partner here. Are you saying they contributed £100 million pounds to the McLaren coffers, having undoubtedly been told the size and specifications the chasis they had to fit their power unit into, and could not get it done? I’m no cultural historian, but the whole Honda McLaren debacle smells of Honda’s arrogance and insularity. They thought they knew it all, and could do it on their own with outside help from european engineering know how.

      4. If you’d said deserve some blame then fair enough. But to claim mostly at fault is nonsensical.

        Size zero was an agreed direction. McLaren produces a chassis to those specs, Honda gave them a lemon to fit in it. As for coming in a year early, fair enough that want ideal. But the complete lack of progress is 100% on Honda. Renault managed to come back from a disastrous start in 2014. Three years later Honda haven’t managed to salvage any hope.

      5. Is that the Doktor speaking Helmut? I think that after watching this your argument will be shown up to be Davy.

        Sure, it takes two to tango, and McLaren almost certainly heaped strict requirements on Honda that were proven to be too much for the manufacturer (see size 0). But at the start both parties had Agreed on it – Honda thought it would be able to make their different type of comperssor work. They didn’t and in the end that made them have to then copy a solution from other manufacturers. Surely both were convinced that it was possible to do, otherwise, why agree on that? They set the target to have a better package than MErcedes had together and learned in a painfull way that they did not.

        And blocking others from running the Honda might have hurt (but can you imagine the likes of Horner, Newey and MArko weighing in with their OWN hard to meet criteria, that might be different from McLarens?) as well, altough I doubt any team would have wanted to be a paying customer to Honda anyway with the issues they were having.

        With how many replacement units Honda were needing, I seriously doubt they would have even been able to build up capacity to supply two teams!

      6. @davy

        McLaren have mostly been at fault for the Honda debacle

        Of course they have. Mclaren engineers were supposed to work out of Sakura to build an engine that fits in the car. They were also supposed to make sure the engine was reliable and could start up. They failed to design the oil tank for Honda. They were not helpful in designing the mgu-h and k systems, and they really didn’t get deployment issues fixed.

        Overall, I think Mclaren really bungled this up. If only every team on the grid could be the class act in performance that is Honda.

      7. A bit over the top.. but you bring some reasonable arguments to the table.

        McLaren made more mistakes even on the chassis part ( i.e. broken wings, missing parts etc..)
        But ultimatly Honda did not deliver and as a result the partner”ship” sunk.

      8. I agree, McLaren are at fault that Honda hired student engineers without relevant experience to build a good F1 engine. And it’s McLaren to blame when even Mercedes couldn’t help Honda.

    2. Davy, I disagree. It is the responsibility of Honda to know what can be achieved in terms of turnaround and size restrictions. Partnerships, especially technology ones, are about discussion. If McLaren were pushing for something unattainable or counter-efficient, then Honda should have recognised it and objected on grounds of quality.

      I’m not giving McLaren a free pass here; I think a big mistake was to stipulate exclusive supply, thus restricting the amount of collected data, something which could have only be beneficial for a new supplier. But mainly, I suspect there was a big culture gap between the two factories and their respective expertise, and perhaps Dennis relied far too much on romantic memories from the late 90’s.

      This year, if Torro Rosso manage to bridge that gap successfully, Honda has every potential to produce good results according to their customer’s requests. But these need to be reasonable, and more importantly, well communicated.

    3. I’m not sure I can watch this knowing there’s nothing to look forward to! Its going to be too painful.

      1. It’s going to be resemble a documentary on the Titanic. You know the outcome, but it’s the tragic and systematic failure on every front that will make it a good watch.

        I can’t wait to see Hasegawas face during this documentary.. Lmao

        1. @todfod haha indeed, exactly like that!

    4. Sorry, but it does rather look like an exoneration exercise.

      1. Really? I think it looks like a fascinating look behind the scenes of an F1 team, where we almost never get to see.

        1. exactly Dylan, the fact that we now know they failed makes this even more fascinating to see.

    5. With the technology around PU’s and the limitations by regulation that PU manufacturers have to meet, I’m actually amazed that this sort of scene hasn’t played out a few times.

      I’m sure quite a few teams were making similar comments and having similar meetings in 2014 after testing and there’s probably some that did in 2017.

      I’m really not a fan of the 3 enginerule – essentially the season will be over after testing if any team finds that it’s PU is way short of where it needs to be because they’ll have to wait until a “new” PU is developed/tested and then either sacrifice being competitive until they hit their intended “replacement” slot or risk penalties by taking an upgrade early.
      Given that major improvements normally take a couple of development cycles (I.e a team would need to take at least 2 new engines) any team that gets an under par PU is effectively finished.
      In Mclarens case (and others) that has meant that they have to wait a whole year to see whether or not things are any better – having done so for 3 years I can understand why they were frustrated – there’s simply now way for a team to be able to realistically do anything other than say “oh well … Let’s see how we go next year”

      I wonder if things would change if it turned out that the Mercedes PU was the bad one this year?

    6. I’m keen to watch this and prime video comes free with a twitch prime sub so yay :D

      “The story is teased out in a series of increasingly awkward realisations over the course of its four episodes.”

      That sounds amazing :D It’s going to be like a grand tragic comedy. I wondered how much they truly believed their pre-season hype and it sounds like they really really did.

      1. It sounds great! Nothing like a good laugh at Honda’s expense.

    7. Ah, good – hope Prime Video keeps widening its scope like this. Can’t wait for 9-Feb!

    8. This should be a fun watch! especially ahead of the pre-season testing with Renault, when we get the first taster of how effectively McLaren and Renault have worked together over the winter and also Honda with STR.

      1. I would love to get that inside story too. Or be this close to Red Bull last two years. Or be a fly on the wall at STR in a month!

    9. I’m hoping that next year this series is on again and shows how the once Mighty McLaren managed to be a competitive car with the Renault engine and were getting podium finishes.

      If nothing else next year, if Mercedes maintain dominance and Ferrari sort themselves out – I hope we see some great McLaren/Red Bull battles.

    10. Love the Alonso quote where he sorta corrects himself, can almost envision the scene:

      ALONSO: “This is really a ****** engine!”
      [Honda personnel gasps…]
      ALONSO: “Oh, sorry, sorry! It’s not the engine…”
      [Honda personnel breathes relieved…]
      ALONSO: “It’s the ‘power unit’, a ****** power unit, you know.”
      [Cuts to Boullier grabbing Hasegawa by the neck]

    11. @keithcollantine Thanks for the reminder! Completely forgot about this and so looking forward to it. Feel free to remind us on the 9th :)

    12. Do McLaren admit to designing and supplying the biggest weakness of the PU in this documentary, or are they content with Honda taking all the flak for their MGU-H?

    13. 2018 will be a season of revelation for Honda and Mclaren, it will answer the question of who is really at fault? size zero, chassis, aero, etc… all the question to those things might finally get an answer. Did the size zero concept made Honda build a compact but weak engine? did the Mclaren chassis and aero contribute to overheating and realiability trouble for the Honda PU. Did Mclaren put too much pressure on Honda, is Honda really is incapable of building a decent engine?

      Those are some of the repetitive questions going around for 3 years now. and we hope some of them will be finally answered this year in the form of results for Torro Rosso Honda and Mclaren Renault. But one thing is certain, that Mclaren acted inappropriately against it’s partner. Ever since the 2017 pre-season they wanted out of the Honda deal, but keep telling the media they are working hard together while all they think about is how to get out of the deal, so they entire 2017 season they did not work with Honda and even after the deal is over, they wouldn’t shut their mouth that its all the fault of Honda, keeping their finger pointed at Honda while walking away form that deal. They even authorize a TV show that is almost certain to reveal that it’s all Honda’s fault, they did this to save face while ruining Honda’s image even further.

      I know it’s a long shot but I hope Torro Rosso Honda will beat them next year, because it’s a 100% certain they can’t beat RBR on the same engine, even when they had Lewis and Mercedes power, they are nowhere near RBR. They best that they could hope is a top 6 finish, after Mercedes, Ferrari and Redbull.

    14. Worst of all: I am geo-blocked from watching this Amazon Prime ‘Original’ content.

    Comments are closed.