Honda’s 2018 engine supply deal with the Sauber F1 Team has been torn up, a mere three months after it was announced.
The deal was originally brokered by Sauber’s former team principal Monisha Kaltenborn before being announced in April.
Weeks after the announcement, Kaltenborn parted ways with the Swiss outfit before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in June, reportedly at odds with the direction that the team’s chief investor, Pascal Picci, was wanting to take the team.
Kaltenborn was subsequently replaced by former Renault team principal Frédéric Vasseur who, it is claimed by a number of sources, reportedly insisted as part of his hiring conditions that the agreement with Honda had to be torn up. Given the team’s struggles running a year-old undeveloped Ferrari engine this year, Vasseur is believed to want a more competitive engine for the team next year.
The team and engine builder subsequently held talks and agreed that “differences in the future directions” of both parties necessitated the agreement be terminated.
“We had built a good relationship with Sauber, and had been looking forward to entering the 2018 F1 season together,” said Honda motorsport’s general manager Masahi Yamamoto.
“However, during discussions after management changes at the team, we reached a mutual agreement to call off the project. We would like to thank Sauber for their cooperation, and wish them all the best for their future.”
Vasseur added: “It is very unfortunate that we have to discontinue the planned collaboration with Honda at this stage.
“However, this decision has been made for strategic reasons, and with the best intent or the future of the Sauber F1 Team in mind. We would like to thank Honda for their collaboration and wish them all the best for their future in Formula 1.”
It remains unclear whether Sauber will extend its long-time deal with Ferrari or secure a deal with Renault or Mercedes, both of whom Vasseur has close personal or professional ties. A contract extension with Ferrari to run 2018-spec power units is considered the most likely option.
The leaves Honda’s sole F1 link with its works partner McLaren, although the relationship between the two is increasingly strained as power unit continues to struggle with a lack of power and poor reliability.
The Woking squad is strongly considering its own split with Honda, however it has little in the way of alternative engine supply deals it could source. Neither Honda nor Ferrari is reportedly interested in supplying the team, and both would need permission from the F1 Commission to expand their supply to more than three teams.
The as-yet unclear future of the McLaren-Honda program remains uncertain. Honda will not want to be left high and dry, and therefore could look to buy Scuderia Toro Rosso – which its owner, Red Bull, has been looking to sell – and take over the squad to continue the development of its engines.
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