Honda plan to spend some of their remaining development ‘tokens’ on their troublesome engine after the summer break as they target consistent progress with McLaren over the remainder of the season.
The Japanese manufacturer, who previously enjoyed sustained title-winning success as an engine supplier to first Williams and then McLaren in the 1980s and early 1990s, have endured a torrid first half-season back in F1 with their all-new power unit beset by reliability problems
But on the back of McLaren’s first double points finish of 2015 in Hungary, Honda’s motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai believes the firm have experienced a “small turning point” in their season after maximising the power output available to them at the last race.
Having spent two development tokens on an upgrade for June’s Canadian GP, Honda have seven left to introduce over the final nine races and Arai has explained the changes they will start to make from as early as the Belgian GP in a fortnight’s time.
“I am confident that our reliability problems are now behind us which means we can turn our attention to increasing power. After the summer shutdown our plan is to apply a new spec engine using some of our remaining seven tokens,” Arai said.
“The most important area for us to concentrate on is the combustion. Current regulations require high efficiency of the combustion so we want to change the characteristic with the chamber design and intake and exhaust system layout. Another issue we will be addressing is reducing mechanical friction by changing the gear train system along with the combustion.
“Not all of our upgrades will be in place for the Belgium Grand Prix; some parts will be applied for Spa and the rest during the weeks that follow. Our plan is to keep improving race-by-race for the remainder of the season.”
Although boosted by their fifth and ninth-place finishes at the Hungaroring, eight-time constructors’ champions McLaren still went into the summer break in a lowly ninth position in the standings after their worst-ever start to a season.
The glittering history of the McLaren-Honda partnership had served to ramp up anticipation on them for their 2015 reunion and Arai now admits the Japanese firm have found the going tougher than expected.
“Expectations were always going to be high because of our illustrious history with McLaren," he said. "Most of the fans have a great image of McLaren-Honda’s heritage so they expected us to return to Formula 1 and be competitive immediately. Obviously this has not been the case. The sport has changed immensely since the McLaren-Honda ‘glory days’.
"The current technology is much more sophisticated and it is tough to make a good racing car. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but perhaps we didn’t imagine that it would be this hard.
“I certainly didn’t imagine technology wise what we would be facing, but I have complete confidence in the direction we have taken with our power unit. We needed to create something radical in order to beat the top teams, and that is our ultimate goal – to beat the best.”
He added: “These types of technical chain reactions which lead to vehicle stoppage were definitely more than we calculated, or more than we envisioned. The difficulty with this is that you cannot calculate precisely without running the car in actual conditions, on track.”
Amid the MP4-30’s struggle for performance and reliability, speculation has pointed towards increasing behind-the-scenes tension between McLaren and Honda. Arai admits there have been occasional clashes, but insists their collective desire for success is actually driving progress and creativity.
“Every step of this new project has been discussed with McLaren management. Every day we are in discussion,” the Japanese explained. “I know that they are under pressure from sponsors, but we trust and help each other to come up with good, innovative ideas.
“Working with the two different cultures within the team has made us stronger and more creative. It’s a very good relationship and a very good team. I trust everyone in the team, and we wouldn’t be McLaren-Honda without each and every one of them. We wouldn’t be fighting as hard as we are without their support and hard work.
“We are one team which means McLaren puts 100% into their job, and so does Honda. The fact that sometimes we are colliding means were putting 100% in everything we do and both sides of the partnership are extremely passionate – this is positive not negative.”
Despite his increased optimism that the project is heading in the right direction, Arai concedes there will be further setbacks in 2015 – although is confident progress will be such that even a podium finish is not yet out of the question.
“Unfortunately we will have more penalties during the coming months, but you will also see big improvements from both sides – chassis and power unit,” he insisted.
“After Spa we aim to improve every race, and hopefully we can start fighting for podiums. We will never stop fighting in 2015!”