Sauber have announced they will break off their intended engine supply deal with Honda, which was due to begin from next season.
The Swiss team announced the tie-up back in April whilst under the stewardship of former team principal Monisha Kaltenborn. Since her departure and replacement by Frédéric Vasseur, they have elected to backtrack on their original deal.
“It is very unfortunate that we have to discontinue the planned collaboration with Honda at this stage,” said Vasseur. “However, this decision has been made for strategic reasons, and with the best intent for the future of the Sauber F1 Team in mind.”
Honda’s motorsport general manager Masashi Yamamoto pointed to the change of direction within Sauber as the primary factor for the deal collapsing. Sauber team management had called a meeting with Honda shortly after Kaltenborn’s departure to negotiate divorce terms with the Japanese manufacturer.
“We had built a good relationship with Sauber, and had been looking forward to entering the 2018 F1 season together,” said Yamamoto. “However, during discussions after management changes at the team, we reached a mutual agreement to call-off the project due to differences in the future directions of both parties.”
With persisting rumours that McLaren may dump them in favour of a customer deal with a rival manufacturer, Honda’s presence in the sport has continued to come into question. Yamamoto was keen to stress the manufacturer’s future in the sport was not at risk despite the Sauber deal falling through, along with the persisting question marks over McLaren.
“Despite this announcement, Honda’s passion for motorsports and strong commitment to Formula One remains unchanged,” he stated.
Sauber currently run 2016 specification Ferrari engines, and a team statement announcing the deal suggested a switch away from the Italian manufacturer to either Mercedes or Renault is on the cards. Both suppliers have a connection to the team at present, with Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein currently plying his trade with the Hinwil-based squad, while Vasseur’s prior role to arriving at Sauber was with the Renault team.
“The new Sauber engine partner will be announced shortly,” the statement read.
A switch to Mercedes specifically would come as little surprise, given the reason for cancelling the Honda deal is reputedly down to the Sauber ownership looking to immediately secure a more competitive engine supply. While Renault remain an option, their struggle for form since the beginning of the hybrid era relative to Mercedes and Ferrari make a tie-up with the German manufacturer a stronger possibility.