McLaren chairman: no regrets over 'expensive' Honda split

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL33 Test Driver.
© XPB 

McLaren Group chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa of Bahrain has insisted that the team has no regrets about terminating its engine partnership with Honda.

He told the BBC this week that it had been in McLaren's best long-term interests to buy its way out of the deal after three years of disappointing results.

However, the team hasn't fared much better since it switched to Renault power units at the start of 2018. Meanwhile Honda has shown improved form with new partners Toro Rosso, and will take on Red Bull as a second customer team next season.

But Sheikh Mohammed - the representative of the Mumtalakat investment fund of the Bahraini government, which is McLaren's controlling shareholder - said splitting from Honda had still been the right call.

"It was in the long-term interests of the company," he said, admitting that it had been "an expensive decision" at the time.

Sheikh Mohammed reiterated Mumtalakat's commitment to McLaren and to Formula 1, despite having to increase funding for the squad to cover losses stemming from the switch away from Honda.

"We are committed to this," he insisted. "The way we were heading, the change was bound to come.

"Tremendous respect for Honda but the relationship wasn't working and so we had a civilised discussion and we decided to part ways.

"We will see this through," he added. "Frustrating, because we are racers at heart, but you just have to power through."

A tremendous effort from Fernando Alonso during 2018 helped the team hold on to sixth place in the constructors championship. But with the two-time champion now departed, and the team still struggling, it's become clear that there are fundamental problems at Woking that need addressing.

Chief technical officer Tim Goss, engineering director Matt Morris and racing director Eric Boullier have all left the team in 2018. Gil de Ferran came on board as sporting director in July and the team has also brought Pat Fry back as engineering director alongside performance director Andrea Stella.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa (BRN) CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Board and McLaren Shareholder.

McLaren hired former Toro Rosso technical director James Key to bolster their development department over the summer, but he remains in limbo with his move currently stalled amid contractual wrangles with his former employers.

"We're confident we know why we haven't been able to develop this year's car," stated Sheikh Mohammed. "There is a fundamental problem, [but] we think we've addressed it."

He said the nature of the problem had not been fully identified until the summer, when it was too late to do anything about in 2018. However it gives cause for optimism for next year's car development.

"Had we discovered that in April we would have had a B car," he admitted. "But it was too late.

"I don't know if we want to disclose what we have discovered and why," he said. "But we have taken steps, and the development of next year's car has helped us understand what went wrong here."

McLaren hopes to have Alonso provide some driver feedback on next year's chassis to help its all-new driver line-up of Carlos Sainz and British rookie Lando Norris prepare for the 2019 season.

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