Analysis: Barcelona sector times justify McLaren’s Monaco optimism
With the troubles of last season firmly behind it, McLaren-Honda's progress is allowing the team to actually look forward to race weekends with some degree of confidence this year.
And although it is still far away from its target of race wins, the strengths of its chassis and progress on the engine front mean that at some venues it can mix it towards the front end at least.
One of those best chances comes this weekend in Monaco, where the tight street circuit in Monte Carlo is being bigged up as a great opportunity for Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button to show what they can do.
In fact, there is a sense of positivity about what can be achieved as the outfit chases what could be the best result since its partnership was renewed at the start of 2015.
Honda's F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa told Motorsport.com: "It's not just optimism. I don't think you can say we will be very strong, but I think our car has some strengths for Monaco – especially compared to places like Sochi and Shanghai."
One of the best indicators for how strong a team will be in Monaco is to look at the performance of its cars in the final sector of the Barcelona race track.
The section, which comprises a mixture of medium and slow-speed corners with no long straight, is the perfect combination to simulate what is required to be quick in Monaco, where chassis quality and decent traction/acceleration outweigh out-and-out power.
Analysis of the qualifying pace through here for the Spanish Grand Prix therefore gives a good pointer to the merits of each chassis, and shows why McLaren has reason to be bullish ahead of the weekend.
Here then are the best times from each of the cars through Sector 3 in Spain:
1. Mercedes 28.736
2. Red Bull 28.931
3. McLaren 29.198
4. Ferrari 29.284
5. Williams 29.314
6. Toro Rosso 29.474
7. Force India 29.527
8. Renault 29.594
9. Haas 29.639
10. Sauber 29.791
11. Manor 29.966
Allied to the GPS data, which showed just where McLaren was losing/gaining against the rivals, the Sector 3 performance was something that Alonso had noticed after qualifying in Spain.
"The third sector is quite a good reference. It was also a good reference in Russia, the last sector," he said. "There are not many straights, and we are behind a Mercedes and behind a Red Bull, but they seem to be very strong.
"Let's see in the next coming races if we can keep improving our efficiency and our mechanical grip as well.
"But we are in front of many of our competitors, which is probably a surprise for many people but not for us. It is good to be in front of Williams, Force India, and Ferrari in terms of chassis side."
Delivering when it matters
Of course, how a car performs on one race weekend provides no guarantee of how it will show the following race.
It is well known that Ferrari under-performed in qualifying in Spain, and spent last week's Barcelona test trying to get to the bottom of what happened. Sebastian Vettel is confident for one that the issues have been solved and things will be better in Monaco.
But equally, the showing from McLaren in Barcelona's sector three was intriguing – because the pace was there even though Hasegawa says Alonso and Button were not particularly happy with things.
"The drivers were always complaining about the rear stability and traction," he said. "Because of that I didn't fully understand out our car performance.
"But from the laptime and from the competitiveness point of view, I think we improved very much I think. From the beginning of the season we have gradually stepped up."
If McLaren can then build on what it showed at Barcelona, its confidence for Monaco and a decent hauls appears well justified.
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