Honda's F1 progress: False Dawn or the end of the beginning?
As Honda plans an all-important upgrade following the summer break, the burning issue for the Japanese engine manufacturer and their partner McLar...
As Honda plans an all-important upgrade following the summer break, the burning issue for the Japanese engine manufacturer and their partner McLaren is whether it will be enough to sustain the apparent progress made in Hungary.
Their first double points finish of the season, courtesy of fifth place for Fernando Alonso and ninth for Jenson Button, is a world removed from the pain of locking out the back row of the grid at the season opener in Melbourne or more recently not being in any way protagonists at Silverstone.
But it's also still a world away from being competitive, at the front of the field, where McLaren and their two world champion drivers belong.
Honda Motorsport boss Yasuhisa Arai has described Hungary's tenth round of the championship as heralding the real 'beginning' of the season for McLaren Honda.
However, Hungaroring is the second slowest track of the season and was always likely to be a target for a team running a car with a power deficit revealed by McLaren boss Eric Boullier to be in the region of 120bhp to the benchmark Mercedes power unit.
Add in the fact that Alonso and Button were restricted to 15th and 16th in qualifying and that only 15 cars were running at the chequered flag after a somewhat topsy turvy race for teams that would normally finish ahead of McLaren in Budapest and the picture looks a lot less rosy.
Even the best McLaren Honda spin doctors would not pretend that their machines finished ahead of both Mercedes cars on merit alone, suggesting that operational efficiency, stellar driving and a large dollop of luck contributed to the result.
McLaren have been pushing their engine partners for developments and Arai has stated that there will be no summer break for his engineers as they battle to introduce development for the next phase of the championship.
There has been some talk of the next step being a 50bhp upgrade which even if true and coming with attendant 'driveability' and energy efficiency, is still less than half way to closing the gap.
What was encouraging for the Tokyo-Woking axis was that Hungary was the first time that Honda have felt confident enough to run their power unit at 'full power', although Boullier clarified on Saturday night that the drivers would not have full ERS use during the race yet.
Interestingly, and encouragingly, McLaren have not recorded a finish outside the top ten in the last five races: they've retired six times and scored points with the other further four car starts.
After failing to get off the mark until round nine at Silverstone, Fernando Alonso is going for a hat trick of points finishes at the next round in Belgium. Worryingly, though, Spa Francorchamps is a pure power circuit hence the motivating words from Boullier for his Japanese colleagues in Hungary.
"I hope that Honda is aware of the situation and has a plan to make up for lost time," said Boullier. "You cannot buy time of course, but you can add resources. So where 450 people is sufficient now for Mercedes, Honda needs 700 so that we can catch up."
In the background there continue to be interesting developments in the ownership of McLaren, with Ron Dennis yet to put on the table the money required to buy control of the company by acquiring shares from the Bahraini sovereign wealth fund, as promised when he returned to the helm in 2014.Therefore the question of how long Dennis will continue is one that will be closely scrutinised in the second half of the season.
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