Yasuhisa Arai, the head of Honda’s Formula One programme, will step down at the end of the month and be replaced by Yusuke Hasegawa, McLaren’s engine partners said on Tuesday.
Hasegawa has previous experience in Formula One from Honda’s time with the BAR and Jordan teams.
Arai, 59, had led Honda’s efforts in the sport since they returned in a new partnership with McLaren in a troubled 2015 season marked by a lack of performance from the unreliable power unit.
Honda said that Arai, who will retire next year, had been moved as part of a wider restructuring.
McLaren finished ninth of 10 teams in 2015 and will be hoping for a considerable improvement in the new season, which starts on 20 March in Melbourne, Australia.
McLaren driver Fernando Alonso is “excited” to get the 2016 campaign underway as he believes McLaren-Honda learnt a great deal from last year’s “tricky” season. McLaren’s first year back with Honda power did not go according to plan.
The team managed just 29 points, suffered 12 retirements and were hit with a record 105-place penalty at the Belgium Grand Prix.
Throughout the season both McLaren and Honda insisted that it was a year for laying foundations for the future. Foundations that Alonso hopes will reap some rewards in 2016.
“The start of a new season is always a special feeling, characterised by a lot of anticipation for the year ahead,” said the double World Champion. “This year is no different: I’m excited and raring to go.
“Last year the spotlight was very much on McLaren-Honda as we embarked on the first year of our renewed partnership. It was a tricky season for all of us, but we learned a hell of a lot.
“Likewise, it’s been a very productive winter for me. I’ve been training extremely hard, as usual, but also enjoying time with my family, and keeping tabs on all the hard work going on at the McLaren Technology Centre, Woking, where the McLaren guys have been doing an incredible job to get everything ready in time. The Honda boys have been working flat-out in Sakura, too.”
As for the new MP4-31, which was unveiled online the day before pre-season testing, Alonso reckons it is “nicely packaged” car.
“The aero package shows fantastic attention to detail. The whole car is beautiful in fact – it’s particularly nicely packaged from an aerodynamic point of view as I say – and I’m 100 per cent ready for the challenge ahead.”