Fernando Alonso has admitted that McLaren is bracing itself for a “difficult weekend” in Australia this weekend, despite Honda hopeful it has made progress with its Formula 1 engine.
The two-time world champion endured a frustrating pre-season testing programme, with McLaren’s running hampered by poor reliability and a lack of power from its new Honda power unit.
Although Honda has been working on cures to address its engine mapping and reliability, Alonso is under no illusions that things will be dramatically different when the F1 season begins in Melbourne.
“After a difficult two weeks of testing we’re prepared to face a difficult weekend in Melbourne,” said Alonso ahead of the Australian GP.
“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.”
As well as focusing on the cause of its reliability dramas in testing, Honda has spent considerable focus on improving its engine mapping for the start of the season.
It is understood that problems with the mapping were the root cause of the vibrations that led to some of the issues in Barcelona testing.
Honda’s F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has said that progress has been made with mapping plus in other unspecified areas.
“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.”
For McLaren, which has sounded out Mercedes about a future customer supply deal in case Honda does not make the progress needed, this weekend will be important for better understanding exactly how it compares against the opposition.
Racing director Eric Boullier said: “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 worth together in partnership and maximise everything we have in our package.”