Every team on every grid of every form of Motorsport is there to win, not make up the numbers and merely take part. At times, some teams have to play a waiting game that appears endless. The patience that Sauber have had to show over the past half-decade has been agonising at times, but the answer to the Swiss teams problems may come from a surprising place.
In 2017, Honda have had nowhere to hide, criticised from all quarters for failing to live up to expectations as they regress in performance with a power unit down on power and down on luck. The worrying signs were there in pre-season testing, the car unable to run, an unhappy Fernando Alonso and a McLaren team destined to languish near the back in 2017.
If a team like Sauber had emerged into the winter tests in the shape of McLaren-Honda, the ramifications would have be greater. Despite being saved from imminent administration by Longbow Finance last year, Sauber would have lost the one financial leg they are standing on if they’d rolled out a C36 that couldn’t even complete a race distance. It’s different with McLaren given their legacy payments, finance is clearly not an issue given that they can run without a major sponsor. They can afford to fail more so than Sauber, not that this is a contest either team wishes to be part of.
Honda has clearly bitten off more than it can chew, entering Formula One at a time in which the hybrid power units have given every engine manufacturer issues at one point or another. What Honda need, more than anything, is time. Time isn’t available at McLaren, they have aspirations to ascend the Constructors table immediately, and they don’t need Honda from a commercial perspective either.
Meanwhile, Sauber are running a year old Ferrari PU and are doomed to fall further back as others develop their own engines. Unlike last season, they have a small war chest to spend on in-season aero developments, and the impression is that should the team fail to score points this season, it will only be disappointment, not liquidation that awaits them.
Surely Sauber would be better off running a power unit that is new, even if it is Honda. With Honda comes an even bigger war chest, and in return, Honda would get a commodity that isn’t in abundance at McLaren – time. At Sauber, the first objective is to develop a package that can challenge for points so they can at least hold their own in the midfield. At McLaren, the pressure is greater. A championship winning, race winning, pole-sitting name that demands podiums at least.
The performance levels that Honda found last season would be widely appreciated at Sauber, and would give the Japanese manufacturer a few nights of sleep, and the opportunity to approach hybrid technology with smaller, surer steps. The situation at McLaren-Honda is destroying both sides of the partnership, it makes sense for McLaren to go back to running Mercedes Power and let Sauber be the guinea pig for Honda in the meantime.
All teams need to confirm their Power Unit providers for 2018 by early May this year.