Wherever Jenson Button may be today, those nearby will surely have seen a wry smile flicker across his mouth when he heard the news that McLaren Honda would lose most of its running on the first day of F1 testing 2017.
As disappointment followed failure after Mac-Honda failure in 2016, the 2009 British F1 World Champion was there to take the awkward questions from the media – and mostly with a hopeful smile and a philosophic nod to the return in the future of greatness and success for the Woking team. Now Jenson and Ron Dennis are no more and the flak is beginning to rain down upon the ‘pathetic’ efforts of the McLaren Honda team with barely a couple of hours of their new breed of MCL named F1 cars hitting the circuit.
After just one lap, the hapless Fernando Alonso climbed from the car and slipped on a jacket as the news emerged there was an oil leak in the Honda power unit. A spokesperson for the Japanese car brand revealed, “due to the difficult access location, it will take several hours to resolve”.
Gary Anderson launched a scathing attack on the Woking team’s engine partner stating: “The engines coming to this test should all be test-bench run and where the engine connects up to the system of the car should be bulletproof. Using the excuse that this is testing and things will go wrong is rubbish because you only have eight days and you need to hit the ground running”.
This means the bright new dawn for McLaren without Ron Dennis has rather opened like a grim morning near a northern French river during the November of 1916.
We all await to see how Fernando Alonso reacts to the start of his third year with the fading British Racing marque.
Elsewhere, it was not good news for Red Bull either. Daniel Ricciardo completed just 4 laps before stopping on track. As the press room screens displayed the name of the team causing the red flag, the noise of a swarm of flies was heard as the collective of journo’s almost simultaneously murmured the words ‘Renault’. According to Red Bull PR, Ricciardo had stopped, not because of an engine failure which itself could initiate the start of another civil war but, because of sensor. Though this was almost certainly a Renault – sorry, Tag Heuer – sensor.
*** Just in. The sensor required the removal of the gearbox – hence the lengthy delay in the garage.
This is disappointing for Red Bull though even during the Red Bull Racing ‘anni mirabiles’ forced upon them by the fragile French power unit, the team managed to finish P2 and P3 in the constructor’s championship. McLaren have no such recent joys and therefore no hope that this morning was just a blip.
For those F1 fans hoping that 2017 and the much lauded new regulations would ring the changes – for now at least – there is little sign of this. Valterri Bottas pounded round and round getting quicker and quicker completing 8 more laps than the GP race distance. Such is the expected reliability of the new Mercedes W08 that the team has decided to split the each test day between their drivers – lest they become too tired or bored with the monotony of gazzilions of lapage.
The quickest time set in testing last season was a 1:22:765 from Kimi Raikkonen. This morning Sebastian Vettel came closest to beating this in his Ferrari with a 1:22:791 on the medium tyres. Some 62 laps completed and so far the Ferrari power unit is holding up well – no fires as yet to report.