McLaren is bracing itself for grid penalties and more competitive struggles at the Belgian Grand Prix – but still thinks it is on course to make solid progress over the second half of the campaign.
Engine supplier Honda is introducing new specification power units for the Spa-Francorchamps weekend – and their use will mean grid drops for Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.
And although the characteristics of the track are also likely to expose weaknesses in the McLaren-Honda package, the team thinks once the immediate difficulties are passed then it can look forward to better times.
Honda's motorsport boss Yasuhisa Arai said: “Honda has updated our combustion characteristics to further improve our power units for Spa and the second half of the season. This weekend's free practices will be important to test the pairing of the power units to the cars.
“The Belgian race, however, will surely be a difficult one for the team and drivers, with expected grid penalties and a long and unforgiving power circuit.
“Nevertheless, McLaren-Honda's focus is to improve race by race. We know we can learn a lot from the circuit for immediate future, and hope that we can come out of the weekend with some positives.”
Racing director Eric Boullier added: “Spa is a truly spectacular circuit - arguably the best on the calendar for many - but, given the unique power and downforce package required, the track won't play to our strengths.
“Therefore, of course, we must be measured in our optimism, and we will need to wait for Singapore and beyond before we can see the fruits of our labours reflected on track.”
Alonso fired up
McLaren secured its best result of the season at the Hungarian GP with both Alonso and Button finishing in the points.
Despite accepting that the Hungaroring boost was helped by a high attrition rate among its rivals, the points did deliver a much-needed morale boost – and Alonso in particular is raring to go to deliver even more in the future.
“I feel in the best shape to start the second half of the year,” said the Spaniard. “After Hungary, we were all really encouraged by the outcome; although we were fortunate to have had some good luck, we still battled hard and finished the race with a positive result.
"Spa will be tricky for us, due to the configuration of a track that requires power, downforce and a big chunk of the lap spent at full throttle. But, from a driver's perspective it's a spectacular circuit and the fans there also make it a truly special place. It's a place at which I won when I was in Formula 3000, but never in Formula 1. I've enjoyed some really exciting battles there, and I'm looking forward to this weekend for some more.
"The next few races will be important for us: we need to continue our forward momentum, and, with the addition of some tweaks to the car and power unit, we will be looking for more progress and good correlation between the simulator and our on-track performance. That might not necessarily appear above the surface in either Spa or Monza, but we'll keep pushing development forward at each race.”