By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
Fernando Alonso is not happy. After just 6 days of pre-season testing, McLaren-Honda has had more power unit failures, changes, and technical problems than any other Formula One team and he is laying the blame squarely on Honda.
With echoes of his “GP2 engine” remarks, the two time champ berated Honda when he spoke to the media today.
“We have only one problem: that is the power unit. There is no reliability and there is no power. I think we are 30 km/h down on every straight. When you are 30 km/h down on every straight, it is difficult also to have a feeling on the car. Everything feels good, but when you arrive to normal speed you don’t know what is going to happen.”
“The chassis side is difficult because we are not pushing probably the speed that the others are doing because of a lack of power. The chassis everything feels good, everything feels under control. The car is responding well to changes and everything is working fine. I’m happy with the balance, I’m happy with how I attack the corner. I’m enjoying driving this car, so I don’t think that we are too far back in terms of chassis side.”
The Spaniard also somberly revealed that the new power unit is actually producing less power than in 2016.
“This is not the Australia-spec engine but it’s an evolution from what we had last week. For Australia we’ll have a different evolution, so from that point of view there’s still hope to gain some power and reliability with the final version. But last week’s spec didn’t deliver the results expected and this week’s spec is also going bellow expectations. For Australia we’ll have to hope for more, we have to be hopeful because the last two specs we worked with didn’t match our expectations. We’ll see. As of today we may have even less power than last year, but we’re running with settings that are not even close to the ones we’ll use in Australia, for different reasons, for different problems we have in the engine. The full power of our engine won’t be seen until we all the problems we are experiencing are sorted.”
Despite the grim situation he is putting on a brave face and claims to still feel hopeful about the season to come.
“Every lap we do we are improving the situation slowly,” he said. “The oil tank was quite an amateur problem that we had that day and then from day one we keep unlocking a little bit the situation in terms of power and in terms of reliability. With more laps you discover other things; temperature in the rear caliper or bodywork that is not properly tight, things that normally you discover in day one or day two of winter testing. As we do 40 laps every day we are in day two of testing and discovering those things. Nothing to worry for Australia, I guess, because the team will be ready to compete at a good level and the only question mark is how much power we will have.”
With no clear way out of the situation McLaren-Honda looks set for another season of disappointment. Was the optimism that came out of Woking at the end of 2016 just talk? Will Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne be left fighting with one arm proverbially tied behind their backs? If Honda cannot improve McLaren will look elsewhere. The problem is that none of the current engine suppliers will want to lend them a helping hand. Mercedes, their former partner now has its all conquering works team. Renault already supplies one team capable of beating the factory outfit with Red Bull, they won’t want another strong challenger in their stable. Ferrari….forget about it.
The situation is indeed dire. The best course of action McLaren can take at this point is to take some of the money made on the road car side of the house and finally invest in making their own power units, but that will be yet another herculean challenge for the boys back at Woking.