The Sauber Formula 1 Team is close to announcing a new engine supply with Honda for the 2018 Formula 1 season after its relationship with current supplier Ferrari soured.
Sauber has been running Ferrari engines since 2010 and also ran them in the 1990’s, labelled as Petronas engines. Rumours of a potential switch to Honda-power for the Swiss team surfaced in 2015 after the Japanese manufacturer returned to F1 with McLaren. Back then, an agreement was in place with Honda and McLaren stating that if Honda wanted to supply a second team McLaren had to approve it. Since then the rules have changed, the FIA now able to compel the manufacturer with the least customer teams to supply an engine to a team that requires one. Honda wasn’t keen on this at first due to its struggles with reliability and performance, but agreed as its duty to the sport. In 2016 the manufactures engines were reliable, which meant they were more open to supplying another team. McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier admitted recently that Honda could benefit from two teams running its engines in light of its issues this year, to aid development.
“I think in this specific case it’s better. I think more teams is better and more engine running is better. But there is a price to pay for that, which is deviating more resources into building more engines. Whatever happens, we are partners, so at some stage there will be a second team supply question, and I think we’ll have to support this. But we want to make sure it’s not detrimental to our partnership.”
Sauber have emerged as the front runner for this supply thanks to frustrations with their 2016 power unit. Sauber’s talks with Honda accelerated in March and the finishing touches are now being made to the contract. An announcement from both sides is expected in the coming days. It is a good step for Sauber as it continues to rebuild following its near collapse in 2016 and it highlights Honda is committed to the sport, even if McLaren is less committed to Honda. There is the unlikely but not impossible scenario that if McLaren did switch to Mercedes power in 2018, Sauber could well end up the works Honda outfit.