Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button’s progress this season has been encouraging for McLaren Honda fans.
Season highlights include multiple Q3 appearances, two sixth place finishes in Russia and Austria with a fifth place finish for Alonso in Canada. But this turnaround has been somewhat tarnished by the difficult race at Suzuka last weekend, clearly a track which isn’t too kind to the cars of Woking.
Speaking to the French publication Autohebdo, Honda boss Yusuke Hasegawa explains the reasons;
“We have made decent progress this season but we are still far from our goal. Our pace of development is good, but it’s not enough. ”
Hasegawa has been frank with his assessment of their situation. The Honda Power Unit needs to be improved still and he gives a very precise indication of areas where progress needs to be made.
“I think we are back at our competitors level as regards the energy recovery. I would even say that in some areas of this complex system, we are even better than some of them. The internal combustion side is significantly behind however… it still causes the most problems.
It is at this level that we have made the least progress unfortunately. ”
But could it just be the Power Unit at fault here? Lets not forget Button made it into Q3 at Spa this year, a high speed circuit and one that should highlight any power deficit.
The issue is likely more circuit specific. Last years performance was poor at Honda’s home circuit of Suzuka with finishes outside of the top ten and Alonso famously calling out on the team radio that he had a GP2 engine.
Suzuka has only two slow parts, the hairpin and chicane. The McLaren aero / chassis setup is known for it’s dislike of medium to high speed corners:- of which there are many at Suzuka.
“We are very strong under braking and into slow corners,” admits Button, “but this track’s all about medium-high speed and straightline speed – which are a bit trickier for us.”
Van Doorne revealed during his one-off race in Bahrain that trying to cure the car’s understeer past a certain point of front wing flap angle just induced oversteer instead. Something that would be starkly highlighted around the Suzuka’s unique layout, particularly around the esses.
With the four remaining races in the USA, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi there’s still time to continue the progress however. Last season Jenson Button scored a very satisfying sixth place in Austin. That said, Honda and Mclaren won’t be encouraged with the highest place finish being 12th in Abu Dhabi after that USA GP.