Could the Honda-McLaren partnership lead to road cars?

Tuesday 24th December 2013, 14:00  

McLaren

Following the much vaunted return to Formula One by Honda as an engine supplier to McLaren in the 2015 season, speculation has been building about the partnership extending further. McLaren team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, announced from Tokyo in May that the new venture would mean that the racing team would be rebranded as McLaren-Honda in the coming year, as reported in The F1 Times.

McLaren and Honda have an enviable track record in grand prix, having won 44 races in partnership and no less than eight world championships. Honda’s president and CEO, Takanobu Ito, said that the new F1 regulations focused more closely on environmental factors which fitted in with his company’s ethos and engine development programmes, prompting the return to high-level racing. This has led some to speculate on whether Honda and McLaren may cooperate with the future high performance production cars, too.

Indeed, since the announcement has been reported Whitmarsh was quoted as saying that the company’s road car strategy has no other automotive partner at the moment and that Honda would be a good firm to collaborate with. “If you take a look at our current car range, the 12C is running and will go on for a few more years,” he said. “The P1 has just been launched and the following model is relatively well developed.” This leaves the intriguing possibility that Honda’s engine development expertise could play a part in any later McLaren road cars.

The development of a better engine was something that all Japanese manufacturers sought through the 1970s and 1980s. For Honda, this really came about in 1989 when the firm announced the introduction of its pioneering the V-Tec engine. Capable of variable valve control, the engines’ sync valves were able to really increase the power output at high revs whilst offering much better fuel consumption when the revs were lower. These days, Honda road car engine parts are sold inclusive of the labour required to fit them, something that cannot be said of McLaren - for the moment at least. Currently, the Japanese car maker is involved in smart engine research and safety improvement systems which are two areas where McLaren could potentially benefit from its race partner.

While the relationship between the two car makers is still new, it is hard to tell how it will pan out. The May agreement was too late in the day for McLaren to have any influence or development input into Honda's Acura NSX, for instance. Nonetheless, many view Honda as the ideal partner for the British based manufacturer which has already said that it wants a car in its range to compete with the Porsche 911. 

The McLaren-Honda F1 team will start racing at the beginning of the 2015 season, with their all new 1.6 litre turbo V6. Honda will also construct the Energy Recovery System for the McLaren F1 cars, a technology that was introduced into the sport in 2009. These systems harness otherwise wasted energy in a process that is something like you find in hybrid road cars. This is another area that – potentially at least – may be of interest to McLaren.

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