According to sources, McLaren boss Ron Dennis is eying Sauber as a potential Honda customer team in 2017, after making it abundantly clear that the Japanese manufacturer could not supply Red Bull next season.
There is however pressure coming from both Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone himself for Honda to work out a deal with another team starting in 2017, which was always part of the initial deal Honda made when they decided to return to Formula 1.
The main reason why McLaren would give their OK for a potential Sauber – Honda partnership is because they do not view the Swiss team as a direct rival, even though that’s exactly what they were this past season.
Sauber finished the year with 36 points in the Constructor Standings, while McLaren had 27 points. Still, McLaren’s aspirations are obviously much larger than Sauber’s, which is why Ron Dennis might not get in the way of this deal.
Besides, with Lotus switching over to Renault power (most likely), Marussia getting Mercedes engines and Haas being powered by Ferrari, there aren’t any other options for Honda anyway – unless Toro Rosso decides against using year-old Ferrari engines after 2016, but we’ll have to wait to see how they do.
Sauber team boss Monisha Kaltenborn said that there were some discussions about her team’s engine situation during a recent F1 Commission meeting, stating that “In the context of that we also had a talk about what our engine situation is, and we said we are currently bound, but you should always keep all options open. It was embedded in a bigger public talk about engine suppliers having to supply more teams.”
“We have a long lasting relationship with Ferrari, it’s a good relationship. But no one knows what’s going to be in two, three, or four years.”
Interestingly enough, Kaltenborn mentioned how she once talks to former Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi about a possible Honda engine supply, despite the fact that they were never “approached by Honda, but it was because of Kamui Kobayashi who came and asked us. Don’t ask me if it was last year or the year before, but this was the context of that talk.”
All of these talks now depend heavily on just how much of a progress we’ll see from Honda next season and how much pressure the Japanese manufacturer will be under to sign more customer teams.
Story references: motorsport