Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Honda to Deliver in 2015 and why Jenson Button Should be Retained

So first things first, before I get started obviously at this time all my thoughts go out to Jules Bianchi and his family after his awful crash at Suzuka. While I'm sure there will be steps to ensure that nothing like this happens again on an F1 circuit, or at any motor racing event, it seems at the time of writing that Jules was the victim of a tragic accident. There's already been much written on the subject, and I'm sure more to come once the FIA have concluded their investigation with regards to how it could have been avoided, and all I'd like to say at this point is to wish Jules a speedy recovery and a return to full health as soon as possible.

The Return of Honda to F1 and Why I'm Tipping McLaren in 2015

I'd like to start my blog instead by turning my attention to the ongoing speculation regarding the driver line up for next season at McLaren and why I'm tipping them for a return to form in 2015.

Firstly, I'm excited for McLaren. I think they could well be challenging for race victories and ultimately a championship in 2015. I say this not with any shred of evidence, only that I get the same feeling with McLaren that I had about Mercedes during the 2013 season. While the steps in Mercedes' progress were a little more obvious last season, with a number of race wins and pole positions under their belt, it was the rumour that Mercedes had devoted a vast amount of off track time to developing a car and engine in line with the new regulations, much more so it seemed than other teams. What's more, as a works team Mercedes were able to design a car to fit around the engine a long time before any other of the Mercedes powered teams were able to get their hands on it. While I'm sure other teams spent vast amounts of time developing new cars during the 2013 season, Mercedes started 2014 with an obvious advantage over the rest of the field, which they have being trying to narrow ever since.

Which brings me to McLaren and their partnership with Honda next season. Again, this is just my opinion with nothing to base it on however here goes.

As early as 2012, Honda had admitted that they were interested in a return to F1, and with an official announcement made around the May 2013 time you can bet that they haven't been sat on their hands ever since. By the time testing for the F1 2015 season will begin, they will have had conservatively at least a year and a half, but in reality a much longer period of time to develop an engine worthy of challenging for the 2015 title. Let us not forget also that this is a company with a pedigree of producing championship winning engines, as they have proved in the past with McLaren.

Unlike teams competing this season under the new engine regulations, Honda will not be coming into this cold. They will have the advantage of seeing what works and what doesn't and unlike Mercedes who will be dedicating some resource into maintaining and developing the engine for their team (s) this season, Honda will have full focus on 2015. This I believe will lead them to producing a power unit that will compete with Mercedes next season.

In addition, as McLaren will in effect be a "works" team next season, they will be able to develop a car around the engine and Honda an engine around the car, at a much earlier stage than teams who wait on delivery from a factory supply, something which I'm sure has been a major effect in the runaway success at Mercedes this season.

Furthermore, add Ron Dennis' seemingly permanent return to the pit lane, a man who has overseen a number of periods of McLaren dominance during his time at the team, and I think all the elements are there for a competitive season in 2015, at least in terms of the car. All of which brings me to the driver line up for next year.

Why Jenson Button Should be Retained

If we are to believe Eric Boullier then no decision will be made regarding the driver line up for McLaren until the end of the season, however it does appear as if Fernando Alonso is pretty nailed on if speculation is to be believed. If so, I think this would be a brilliant acquisition for McLaren, securing the services of a man who time and time again has outperformed the car beneath him. I honestly think you could give Alonso a donkey and cart and he'd still manage to somehow get it in the points. Alonso is a driver who simply knows how to win, and I can't think of a better driver to lead the team next year if the McLaren/Honda is anywhere near competitive.

Which brings me to the number two position in the team, and a position which I strongly feel should be filled by Jenson Button. As a British national it is hard not to be a little patriotic on the subject however I firmly believe that Jenson still has it in him to deliver strong results for the McLaren team next year, and more to give F1 in general before he decides to hang up his helmet. While much seems to be made of head to head qualifying performance, people seem to forget that it's where you finish at the end of the race that counts, which is something that Jenson has managed to do significantly better than Kevin Magnussen this season.

Don't get me wrong, I like Magnussen and I think he has a real future in F1, I just don't think that McLaren is the place for him next season. As previously mentioned, Honda is a team with a real pedigree in Formula 1 and if next season's car is in anyway as good as I think it will be, then there will be immense pressure for results immediately. While Magnussen has shown some raw speed and talent at times this season, he has equally "gone missing" in as many races. I think some time away at a Force India or Sauber type team where he can cut his teeth a little would do the world of good for him.

Instead, I think retaining Button, a man who has won a World Championship and additionally secured several race victories and more than a hatful of podiums for McLaren would be a better choice. Along with Alonso he is a driver who has proven that he is able to deliver when under pressure at a "big" team and also has the F1 experience that would really benefit the Honda/McLaren partnership in developing the car throughout the 2015 season. Ultimately if Alonso were to join, I think he would outperform Button over the course of the season, however should they retain Magnussen, my feeling is that this gap would be glaringly obvious quite early on.

It promises to be an interesting year in 2015, and ultimately more competitive in the drivers and constructors championships as teams get to grips with the new rules and regulations and close the gap on Mercedes. My tip is to look out for and experienced McLaren team powered by Honda, I could be horribly wrong!