Ferrari are undoubtedly the most popular team in Formula One, perhaps even in the whole motorsport world. However, as an avid F1 follower since the early seventies, my allegiance has never really been with the teams, but rather with the drivers. To me, they are the heroes.
The marques I was loyal to belonged to sports cars. Etched in my memory are the legendary Porsche 917, the awesome 935 Group C cars, and the 962 which dominated sportscar and endurance racing, among others. There was also the gorgeous Ferrari 312PB, the Lancia LC2, and the Gulf Mirage GR7. If you don’t remember these, then do yourself a favour and Google them, as they are still a thrill to behold.
I digress. Even while the marques in F1 never tickled my fancy, I have always had a soft spot for McLaren. Apart from the fact that I spent a couple of years in the early nineties taking pictures for the team, I also have a great deal of respect for Ron Dennis who took over in 1980.
Under his stewardship the team raised the bar for the look and feel of the sport. At a time when jeans and t-shirts were the fashion in the pitlane, the McLaren crew were decked out in smart team wear. Their operation was immaculate and attention to detail paramount. This ethos inevitably led to success.
In the early years under Dennis, McLaren soldiered on with Cosworth engines. But, with the dawning of the first turbo era, the team pulled off a coup by convincing Porsche to build an engine for them, under the guise of Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG), owned by Saudi born Mansour Ojjeh. Three drivers world titles followed in 1984, 1985 and 1986.
Then, in 1988, McLaren began a partnership with Honda. This heralded the beginning of a golden era for the team, with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost winning just about everything in sight.
In 1992 the McLaren-Honda partnership ended with four successive world titles in the bag.
McLaren have continued to be a force in F1, now with Mercedes powering their cars. Since 1998 they have won the drivers title three times with Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999, and Lewis Hamilton in 2008. But kind of dominance they shared with Honda has never returned to the Woking-based outfit.
Honda pulled out of F1 at the end of 1992, then returned as a full grand prix team in 2006 after buying the BAR outfit. But success as a F1 constructor proved elusive for the Japanese manufacturer.
The record books will show 88 races started by the team, resulting in three wins and Honda drivers on the podium on nine occasions. In 2008 they shut their F1 shop, sold it to Ross Brawn and moved away from the sport.
Last week it was announced that McLaren and Honda will renew their partnership from 2015, a year into the second F1 turbo era. This means McLaren will design and build the cars, with Honda building and maintaining the engines, in an effort to reclaim their glory days of old. Back to the future, one could say.
A ruthlessly effective partnership will be rekindled and it is highly likely that McLaren-Honda will be a massive force in the years to come. The big bosses at Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and Lotus (among others) sat up and took note when the announcement was made.
Jenson Button, who scored Honda’s last victory, and Rubens Barrichello, their last driver, know better than most the potential of the Japanese manufacturer supplying F1 engines to McLaren.
“I grew up watching McLaren-Honda Formula One cars racing and winning around the world. They wrote their own glorious chapter of Formula One history,” the 33-year-old Barrichello said in a McLaren statement.
“Even now, picturing those unmistakable red-and-white cars evokes vivid memories of some of the most dramatic and exciting motor racing the world has ever seen.
“McLaren-Honda. I know how much passion, success and pride are encapsulated within just those two words. And that’s why I’m so thrilled and excited about what’s not only a fantastic opportunity for the team, but also a great development for Formula One fans and the sport as a whole,” added Button.
Granted F1 is very different from what it was two decades ago. But, the ingredients are there for the partnership to become a mega-force in the sport once again. Honda failed as a team and they cannot afford to do so again. They will have virtually unlimited resources and effort available to them. I might just become a McLaren-Honda fan again!