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McLaren and Honda improve drivability, but Fernando Alonso braces for “difficult” F1 Australian Grand Prix

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McLaren and Honda improve drivability, but Fernando Alonso braces for “difficult” F1 Australian Grand Prix
Mar 21, 2017, 12:58 PM

Fernando Alonso says McLaren is preparing to face a challenging start to the 2017 Formula 1 season after its pre-season troubles with the Honda pow...

Fernando Alonso says McLaren is preparing to face a challenging start to the 2017 Formula 1 season after its pre-season troubles with the Honda power unit.

The British squad completed the fewest laps of any team during the two winter tests at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya as Honda struggled to find performance and reliability in its redesigned V6 turbo engine.

McLaren ended up with just 1978km of total running on the board before the teams jetted off to Melbourne ahead of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, which is 3124km behind the 5102km completed by cars using Mercedes engines. The team was also 741km behind Toro Rosso, which completed 2719km as the second lowest pre-season total for a single outfit.

 Fernando Alonso

Following those frustrations, and reports emerging that McLaren had sounded out Mercedes about the possibility of switching to its power units, Alonso explained that the team was just focused on making the MCL32 reliable rather than chasing performance targets in Australia.

He said: “After a difficult two weeks of testing we’re prepared to face a difficult weekend in Melbourne. 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.”

Eric Boullier

McLaren’s racing director Eric Boullier echoed Alonso’s comments, but reaffirmed the team’s commitments to its partnership with Honda.

He said: “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.”

Honda’s pre-season problems, which included an oil tank, electrical and vibration issues, came after it reworked the architecture and layout of its power unit in a bid to make up the deficit to the Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault that it has faced since re-joining F1 at the start of 2015.

Yusuke Hasegawa

Yusuke Hasegawa, Honda’s F1 engine boss, explained that the Japanese manufacturer had improved its power unit mapping ahead of the season opener, which it hopes will improve the MCL32’s drivability.

He said: “It has been a challenging winter for everyone at the team. Obviously the problems we had in Barcelona limited our track time and put added pressure on our pre-season preparations, however, we were still able to generate a huge amount of useful data.

“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. We know we are heading in the right direction and we’ll continue our efforts in order to increase our competitiveness throughout the season.”

Alonso “incredibly motivated for 2017”

On top of the problems with its power unit, another interesting topic surrounding McLaren is whether Alonso will stay with the team, and F1, beyond 2017.

The double world champion has previously said he would assess the performance characteristics of the new-for-2017, higher speed F1 cars before taking a decision on his long-term commitment to the series.

 Fernando Alonso

But the 35-year-old explained that his enthusiasm levels were high ahead of the start of season, and he also outlined his hopes that the new cars will produce exciting racing.

He said: “I’m incredibly motivated for 2017 and I can’t wait to see what kind of racing this new shake-up of the sport will bring. We already know the sport is a lot more physical and the cars are more challenging to drive – from a driver’s point of view this is exactly what we were looking for in the new regulations, and I really hope this will translate to good battles on track.”

* JA on F1 had one of its largest samples in the poll asking "What would you do in McLaren's shoes with over 8,000 respondents. Here's the result (click to enlarge)

What do you make of Alonso’s comments? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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Series Formula 1
Drivers Fernando Alonso Shop Now
Teams McLaren Shop Now