McLaren staff told us we were “totally crazy” to take Honda engines in 2018 – Tost

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Outgoing AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost said their race-winning partnership with Honda – after rivals predicted they would not be successful – is a treasured memory from his time in charge.

Tost’s team, then known as Toro Rosso, began using Honda power units in 2018. The Japanese manufacturer had endured a poor return to Formula 1 with McLaren, who ended their association with Honda after three years.

In a further blow to Honda, Sauber initially agreed a deal to use their engines from 2018, then reversed the decision following a change of management.

However Red Bull saw the Japanese motors as a potential replacement for their Renault units. A deal was struck for Red Bull’s junior team, Toro Rosso, to run the engines during 2018. Tost recalled members of McLaren’s team told him he had made a mistake.

McLaren split from Honda after just three years
“In 2018, when we signed the Honda contract, we became the Honda works team,” he said. “And I think nearly the whole paddock smiled about this.

“McLaren people came to me and said we are totally crazy to work together with Honda. I said, ‘gents, wait, we talk in about five years about this’. But it didn’t take five years, it was clear much earlier that the decision was right.”

In the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix, the second race for the Toro Rosso-Honda partnership, Pierre Gasly took fourth place – higher than McLaren had finished in any of the previous three seasons.

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AlphaTauri’s strong start with Honda emboldened Red Bull to begin using their engines in 2019. That put them on course for championship success, and the team has taken dominant title wins in the last two seasons.

Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Bahrain International Circuit, 2018
Gasly delivered early success for Toro Rosso with Honda
“It was a fantastic cooperation with Honda,” said Tost. “I liked it very much. And also [it was] a successful one.” His team, which had only won once before, scored a second victory in 2020, after Red Bull rebranded it.

“In 2019 we had two podium finishes,” said Tost. “One with Daniil Kvyat at the Hockenheimring and one with Pierre Gasly in Sao Paulo, he had a good fight against Hamilton, he just stayed ahead a few tenths or one or two tenths, something like this.

“And in 2020, another big step when [Red Bull founder] Dietrich Mateschitz decided to build up this fashion company, AlphaTauri, and he said now the team will be named Scuderia AlphaTauri, because we have to promote AlphaTauri and we were the ambassador for AlphaTauri and it was also exciting and interesting. And Pierre Gasly managed to win another time in Monza, which meant this was a really successful time.”

The team has continued to use Honda’s power units, now branded ‘Honda RBPT’ following the Japanese company’s withdrawal as a manufacturer at the end of 2021. Although the team slipped to ninth in the championship last year, and was in last place just four races ago, it has rebounded since then. As Tost prepares to oversee his final race, AlphaTauri lies eighth and has a chance to overtake Williams for seventh place in the standings.

“Last year’s car didn’t work and I was totally shocked,” Tost admitted. “Then this year at the beginning the car did not work.”

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He told the team’s aerodynamicists and engineers “they have to bring to every race an upgrade, something like this.”

“Just bring new parts and improve the performance of the car,” he said. “I just want to see a good lap time and the rest I’m not interested in. And I must say it worked out well.

“We brought a big upgrade to Silverstone, then to Singapore, also to Austin. And we have also, as I mentioned before, a new upgrade here for Abu Dhabi, and I hope that we can show a good performance and finish the season with the seventh position.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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11 comments on “McLaren staff told us we were “totally crazy” to take Honda engines in 2018 – Tost”

  1. I think most of us were sceptical that the Honda-Red Bull tie-up would be a success, to be fair. And it is notable that their greatest success has only come about since we’ve had the engine freeze.

    1. Not just a freeze, a commitment to equalising performance.

      While Red Bull’s success is impressive, in the greater context of F1 history it doesn’t compare to dominant seasons like 1988 or 2002 when teams had much more variables to handle and keep on top of.

      1. 1988 was the most nerfed garbage season ever and actually completely unimpressive compared to Red Bull’s accomplishments. It was brighetened by a duel between 2 of the best 5 or 6 drivers ever on same team

        The previously dominant Williams squad was nerfed with a Judd engine and chose to use the season as an active suspension test mule. Ferrari made little effort to adjust to the massive slashing of fuel and boost- which cut a couple hundred horsepower off the car. Lotus lacked the technology and a rigid enough chassis to take any advantage of the Honda engine.

        1988 was a transitional year farce. Ill grant that 2002 was more impressive, but rival McLaren lost their ace driver and special alloys the year before. So it always comes down to regulations. Mercedes stole the march on the Renault and Ferrari in 2014, with the token system and perhaps a shoddy partner it took Honda some years to catch up.

        But catchup they did, predicting who would have continued to advance if things were unfettered is counterfactual history. Unlike everything I listed above.

  2. I think by end of 2017 it was clear that it was not all black and white when it comes to Honda and McLaren (Honda = Bad, McLaren = Good).

    The McLaren documentary while clearly made by McLaren showed how the 2 had no collaboration and McLaren still had issues.

    It has taken McLaren a good 5 years from then to become a front running team in its own right.

    Only good thing McLaren did in 2017 was to show the guts to ditch Honda (even if it came at a high cost). Because Honda clearly didn’t have those guts.

  3. 5 years after Toro Rosso partered up with Honda, it seems like one of the best decisions ever made.

    Toro Rosso didn’t care about instant results like McLaren did and weren’t stuck up with their ‘size-zero’ design so they gave Honda the appropriate space to work… and Honda (after failing miserably for 3 years in an unsuccessful marriage) had a healthy cooperation with Toro Rosso, they fixed their issues and that put them in the right track to produce WDC-winning engines.

    Honestly I don’t think Red Bull would have won those championships if they’d stuck Renault power.

    1. Yes, agree, here you can see the utility of having 2 teams, red bull could do all their tests on the unimportant team and as soon as the engine improved enough they got it for the main team too.

      1. Still don’t understand why more ppl haven’t realized this and that having a second team is so advantageous. Merc, ferrari, and especially Renault! What are you doing!!!

        1. yeah, its pretty much a back door around the rules. and the FIA only care about branding. I mean look at how they neutered the WEC LMP cars so they wouldn’t come close to the F1 cars.

    2. They didn’t care because they were little more than a test team, fully funded by the owners of Red Bull, who also had and coninue to have full control over their operations.

  4. Billy Rae Flop
    25th November 2023, 11:40

    Easy to do when you’re doing it for the main team

  5. If the decision was so good and easy to take why didn’t Red Bull take the engines instead of sacrificing the smaller team for a full season then?

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