Mercedes: Still time to agree on Honda deal
McLaren and Mercedes bosses say there is no fixed deadline for a customer engine deal to be reached with the stricken Honda team – although they concede that time is running out.
Speaking at the launch of the new McLaren MP4-24 on Friday, Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug said there was still a window of opportunity for a deal to be done.
“[Honda] approached Martin [Whitmarsh] quite a while ago and of course the FOTA meeting when [Honda’s exit] was announced was the first time everyone learned that there was a problem,” he said.
“All the team principals being there decided that if there was a possibility to help then one should help. We were asked then as Mercedes-Benz.
“The timing is anything but fantastic, obviously, but we still could do it.
“There is not a deadline like tomorrow or next week, but of course time is running [out] and it needs to have a solid financial background.”
With the season set to get underway at the end of March, Haug was asked just how late a decision could be left.
“Certainly not two weeks before Melbourne…the decision-making process is ongoing, but there is not a deadline in the next couple of days,” he replied.
Whitmarsh, who will take over from Ron Dennis as team principal on March 1, said McLaren would do what it could to help but had to be careful not to put Mercedes in a difficult position or compromise its own program.
“We should be aware that there are 700 people at Honda who worked very hard, even if they didn’t have the success,” he said.
“They are a very dedicated, committed bunch of people and we should be sympathetic and as supportive as we can.
“That’s why I have spoken to Ross and Nick to see if there is anything we can do.
“It’s also in our interests, because we want to maintain the highest possible number of entrants.
“But it is difficult and there is a limited amount of time.
“I’m very grateful to Mercedes because I’ve walked in and said ‘how can we help?’ and I’m potentially obligating Mercedes.
“I think what we’re worried about is getting drawn into something there.
“We’ve told Honda they should keep all their options open, including talking to Ferrari, because I’m not in a position to guarantee [a deal].
“Mercedes-Benz is in Formula 1 to sell cars, while at McLaren, our core business is Formula 1, so we have slightly different perspectives.
“Now, it’s certainly in McLaren’s interests to help and facilitate.
“…What we’ve just got to be careful about is that we don’t get involved in a slow, painful death there – that’s not what we’re looking to do.
“But if we can assist practically without detracting from our program, and clearly without damaging brands such as Mercedes-Benz, then we’ll do what we can.”
Echoing Haug’s comments about the timeframe for any deal to be completed, he added: “I think we want to decide it as quickly as we possibly can.
“We deliberately aren’t trying to apply deadlines to Honda, because we are trying to give them the maximum chance to sort themselves out.”