Two time Spanish champion Fernando Alonso is preparing for a ‘difficult weekend’, when the formula one circus returns to competitive action this weekend in Australia.
The two pre-season tests which were both held at Barcelona, highlighted further problems in the McLaren-Honda camp. Honda turned up the ante this year by re-designing their power unit architecture, only to be thwarted by poor reliability, and a lack of overall power first time out.
Will we hear “GP 2” engine over the radio in Q3? Alonso is under no illusion that there remains a lot of work to be done to address the issues faced by the team.
“After a difficult two weeks of testing we’re prepared to face a difficult weekend in Melbourne,” admitted Alonso.
“We’ll do our best with what we have and there’s a lot of hard work and collaboration happening within the team, but the lack of time before the first race means you have fewer options for big changes.
“The first step will be to work on reliability before we can make any assumptions or predictions about performance, and we will try to enjoy the weekend as much as we can.”
Behind the scenes, Honda have been frantically working to improve the power unit’s engine mapping, and a cure for their reliability gremlins. It is widely believed, that the root cause for the poor show in Barcelona was in fact related to engine mapping, where vibrations literally ‘shook’ the orange and black car to a halt.
Under pressure Honda boss Yusuke Hasegawa believes improvement has been made since the Barcelona tests.
“In terms of performance, there has been room for improvement with mapping in order to have better driveability, and with further analysis we were able to make additional changes to be ready for Melbourne,” he said.
“We know we are heading in the right direction and we’ll continue our efforts in order to increase our competitiveness throughout the season.”
Honda have been ‘heading in the right direction’ however since 2015, when a disastrous return to the sport saw familiar issues to those being experienced now. There is talk that McLaren could indeed be the last car on the grid, even running behind the 2016 Ferrari powered Sauber.
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier had this to say: “It’ll be interesting for us all to see the pecking order emerge as each session goes by, as well as where our own strengths and weaknesses lie, and we’re prepared for a challenging weekend ahead.
“We will approach this season race-by-race – for us Australia will be the benchmark by which we can understand where we are in relation to the rest of the field, and what we need to do to tackle the coming grands prix.
“We won’t make any promises or predictions about our performance or results, but McLaren and Honda will continue to work together in partnership and maximise everything we have in our package.”
There is a clear message then from Boullier, that for the moment at least, McLaren and Honda will continue to work together. The main question surrounds the remaining time frame of this partnership.
Rumours in Barcelona suggested that McLaren have seriously considered a return to Mercedes Benz power. The ‘return’ would mean a customer engine supply, as previously experienced in 2014 at the start of the new hybrid formula.
It is believed that performance clauses are inserted in the McLaren-Honda engine contract, and that McLaren will be free to walk from the ten year deal based on performance criteria alone.
The upcoming Melbourne weekend will prove to be a critical time for this partnership, and also that of star driver Fernando Alonso. If questions are surrounding McLaren’s ability to stomach another year of under achievement, then surely there will be questions around Alonso.
“GP2 engine, GP2 engine, agggh”.