A desperately poor and frustrating Formula One pre-season test for McLaren, having opened with an engine problem on day one, drew to an ignominious close with the team’s new MCL32 stopping twice on track on the final day in Barcelona. The team’s relationship with their engine supplier, Honda, is under considerable strain and turning the situation round in time for the first race in Australia in two weeks looks increasingly difficult.
Fernando Alonso was at the wheel on the first day when a problem related to the oil tank design cost them track time and the two-times world champion was there again on Friday, when he came to a halt halfway through the morning session. His car was taken back to the pits but, when the Spaniard returned to the track with an hour remaining before lunch, the car again ground to a halt. The problem was an “intermittent electrical shutdown”, the same issue that had cost Alonso’s team-mate, Stoffel Vandoorne, time on Thursday.
The team have already endured two years of woeful underperformance, since their partnership with Honda began but were optimistic that the new regulations and Honda’s complete redesign of their power unit would result in a considerable improvement this season.
However, since that first issue in Barcelona the car has been afflicted with a variety of problems and Alonso has laid the blame firmly at Honda’s door. “We have only one problem: that is the power unit. There is no reliability and there is no power,” he said on Wednesday.
The team have already replaced their power unit more times than they would be allowed to during the season proper and the team principal, Eric Boullier, has admitted they are in a difficult position. “Obviously we are in F1, we are racing and we have to perform, so the pressure is huge,” he said. “We cannot put a footstep wrong.”
The executive director, Zak Brown, who replaced Ron Dennis last year, insisted the team had no intention of breaking their contract with Honda, which is set to last until 2024. However, he too is feeling the frustration and that there is some discord was clear when he posted a link to Alonso’s criticism of Honda on his Facebook page on Wednesday, which was subsequently removed.
Boullier also acknowledged there would be no quick solutions to the problems. “Although we’ve suffered a number of issues over the course of two weeks of testing, we’ve certainly learned a lot about the car and we know the problems that need to be addressed,” he said at the conclusion of testing. “Plainly speaking, they aren’t overnight fixes but we’re hopeful both McLaren and Honda will be able to make progress on them ahead of Australia.”