After heightened speculation this month Sauber has confirmed it will not use Honda power units in 2018.
The Sauber Formula One team announced in April that it had negotiated a deal to adopt Honda engines next season, replacing the team’s current supply of year-old Ferrari power units — but the supply arrangement was brokered by former team principal Monisha Kaltenborn, who has since left the team.
Frederic Vasseur was named as her replacement earlier this month, and almost immediately speculation mounted that he would seek to extricate the team from the deal.
“The Honda question is on the table, it’s the first one I’m going to work on,” he told French paper L’Equipe. “In light of what I hear from McLaren, it can be scary.”
On Thursday at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Vasseur’s first weekend in the paddock in his new role, Sauber confirmed in a statement that it would be ending its Honda relationship.
“First we tried it,” Vasseur said. “But I think that the start of the discussion between Honda and Sauber was eight months ago, and the situation changed drastically on both sides.
“We reached the point that at one stage it was better for everybody to stop the discussion.
“We did it in a very fair way with Honda, and we would like to thank them for the discussion we have had over the last 10 days. It was good thing for me.”
Vasseur has been inducted into the team with the unenviable task of rescuing it from one of the lowest ebbs of its history.
On only two occasions since the team’s inception has it scored fewer than its current tally of five points, and its 2017 challenger, the C36, remains off the pace thanks in equal parts to its outdated Ferrari engine and a development programme yet to yield results.
The lowly starting position from which he takes the reins is Vasseur’s rationale for ending ties that would have his team use the sport’s least powerful and most unreliable engines.
“In one end we are in a quite tough situation in terms of pace, and we need to have reference,” he said.
“On the Honda side we don’t know exactly what will happen with the McLaren deal, and that’s also a tricky situation for us.”
Curiously, however, Vasseur has pulled the trigger before confirming a supply deal with another manufacturer.
Both Mercedes and Renault supply three teams apiece, including their works outfits, meaning the FIA would have to issue dispensation to allow either to supply a fourth. Ferrari, on the other hand, has just one confirmed customer next season.
Ensuring that a current specification engine powers Sauber, however — unlike its deal this season — will be key to negotiations.
“First you have no updates during the season, and I think at some stage it is more difficult to motivate everybody in the team if you start the season with an engine from one year before,” Vasseur explained.
If Sauber fails to reach an agreement with another manufacturer, the regulations could automatically link it with the supplier providing for the fewest teams.
In 2018 Honda is scheduled to supply only McLaren, meaning agreeing to terms with one of the other three suppliers is critical to Vasseur splitting with the Japanese manufacturer and maximising Sauber’s potential.
“Clearly on the grid that you have three or four top teams and then the midfield group,” he said. “If you have a look inside the midfield group, it changes from race to race — from P8 to P18 it’s very up and down. We have to target the midfield group.”
“For sure we have to work quick, we have to invent, we have to do all the tough things, but I think that everybody is pushing in the same direction.”