MARCH 26, 2017
Sauber talks start amid McLaren-Honda split rumours
McLaren and Honda could now be on a fast track to F1 divorce.
Paddock speculation in Melbourne is rife that, now into its third year of an unsuccessful works collaboration with Honda, the great British team's patience with the Japanese carmaker is up.
That frustration is palpable in the team's top driver, Fernando Alonso.
For instance, while the Spaniard says the new generation of cars means the 'old' F1 is back again, it is believed the team has told its drivers to short-shift in Melbourne in order to reduce the power unit's uncontrolled vibrations.
Alonso qualified an unexpected 13th, but said: "It is no reason to celebrate. I will not be thirteenth all season."
Most who heard Alonso say those words agree that Alonso was not sounding upbeat about the future, but rather warning that unless McLaren-Honda rapidly improves, he could quit the team.
Indeed, when asked if finishing in the points on Sunday is possible, Alonso answered: "I don't really care.
"We are McLaren-Honda, and if we cannot fight for podiums, it's just a waste of time."
Asked if he can take anything positive from the Melbourne weekend, he added: "I'm a second faster than my teammate and have been ahead of him the whole weekend."
Britain's Sun newspaper claims McLaren is considering dumping Honda this year and returning to customer Mercedes power, with the Honda deal switching to Sauber.
Honda chief Yusuke Hasegawa admitted that talks with other teams about engine supply have started, but he played down the other "rumours" doing the rounds.
"It's just rumours, I don't care. We have to concentrate on what we have to do," he said.
The Japanese did admit, however, that Honda "didn't do a great job" in preparation for the 2017 season.
Team boss Eric Boullier added: "I think our performance in the tests has led to these rumours.
"Of course, we look at all the options to improve because we are not where we expected to be, but we keep working together."
Zak Brown, the new McLaren executive, also tried to downplay the wild rumours about a Honda split.
"All our conversations with Honda have been 'How do we get out of this situation?'" he said. "So the relationship is very healthy."