In the next of our awards for the 2017 F1 season, we look at a frustrating case of overpromising and underdelivering.
Honda had legitimate excuses for being off the pace in 2015 and 2016. F1's restrictive engine development system -- defined by a certain amount of tokens -- meant much of its huge deficit was locked in at the start of each season. It had made a fundamental mistake with its concept and was unable to use its resources to properly rectify it.
This year was supposed to be the one Honda finally got right. Along with a revamped set of aerodynamic regulations, the token system had been scrapped and Honda came into the season with an entirely reworked power unit. At the launch of McLaren's MCL32, F1 boss Yusuke Hasegawa said he had "the feeling we are not far behind them... I think we will catch up with them by the beginning of the season". There were no excuses for failing again.
Looking back now, that declaration of supreme confidence is laughable. Honda was nowhere near to Mercedes, or Ferrari, or Renault, on outright power, a fact that was painfully obvious early on in winter testing. Reliability was also a constant struggle. In one media session following a challenging day in Barcelona (of which there were several), Fernando Alonso cut the figure of a man about to walk the plank of a pirate ship.
While Ron Dennis had shown patience with the company he had lured back to F1, Zak Brown, the man who took control of the team after Dennis' exit at the end of 2016, was less forgiving of McLaren's partner. Soon the American was talking about other options, while also helping to engineer Alonso's remarkable trip across the Atlantic to contest an Indy 500 -- something which all started with a joke about Honda's flailing performance at the Australian Grand Prix. It soon became obvious that keeping Alonso at the team beyond 2017 was higher on Brown's list of priorities than keeping Honda.
Alonso undoubtedly played a big part in helping the relationship come to a premature end, with constant criticisms throughout the year coming alongside glowing praise of McLaren's MCL32. The presence of Alonso has hardly helped Honda's plight either -- it wasn't just failing with one of F1's most famous teams, it was doing it with one of its greatest ever drivers in the twighlight of his career. Honda will always be prominent in the list of reasons behind Alonso retiring with only a fraction of the titles his supreme talent could have won.
While performance and reliability levels were appalling, perhaps the most disappointing thing was how consistently Honda failed to deliver its own targets. Promised upgrades for Belgium never materialised, as the Japanese manufacturer arrived at Spa-Francorchamps with engines named Spec 3.5 and 3.6 instead of Spec 4. The decimal point became something on a running joke on social media as McLaren reached 3.7 later in the season. It added insult to injury for McLaren -- Honda had also missed its deadline for Spec 3 earlier in the year.
The Belgium incident seemed to speed up divorce talks and soon the switch to Renault seemed to be a formality. That McLaren was willing to give up fully-fledged factory status to take the same power unit as rivals Red Bull shows you just how desperate the situation had become.