McLaren optimistic following 'surprisingly good race pace'

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Malaysia, Sepang International Circuitmy

McLaren Honda saw its cars disappointingly retire from the Malaysian Grand Prix with power unit issues. The team though saw much better pace, allowing both cars to fight with the Force India cars for position.

The two MP4-30s were the only cars to start the race on the Hard (Prime) tyres, but were able quickly to switch to the Medium (Option) when both boxed during an early Safety Car period. Jenson was delayed at his stop by an issue with the left-front, and was also hampered behind Manor’s Roberto Merhi, who failed to catch the cars in front ahead of the restart.

During the race itself, both cars ran more strongly than they had in Australia two weeks ago – Fernando ran as high as eighth before an ERS cooling problem required him to stop his car on lap 21. Jenson was able to latch onto a midfield battle but was also ordered to stop by the team. He retired on lap 41 with a turbo issue.

Jenson Button, MP4-30-01, DNF – turbo (41 laps): “The start of the race was a bit of a mess for me: I’d had a longer-than-normal pit-stop under the Safety Car, and came out behind Roberto [Mehri], who didn’t close down the gap before the Safety Car came in. At the restart, I then started about four or five seconds behind the pack, had to get past him, then chased down the cars in front – which hurt my tyres.

“But I enjoyed it out there – we’re actually racing people. To be able to see one of the Red Bulls ahead of me – and so far into the race – was obviously a nice surprise. And we were able to mix it with the others a little bit more, too. Fighting in the pack is the most positive thing to take away from this weekend – hopefully, before too long, we can start to pick them off on a race-by-race basis.

“Today has been a useful day; it’s just a pity that both Fernando and I ended up finishing it early.”

Fernando Alonso, MP4-30-03, DNF – ERS cooling (21 laps): “This whole weekend has been better than I expected. The main positive to take away from today is the fact that we were able to run with other cars – Jenson and I weren’t simply fighting with each other. That was the first step we needed to take, and we’ve taken it already.

“Indeed, our race pace was surprisingly good; I was running with the pack, and I was even able to catch the Red Bulls before the pit-stops. That was a nice surprise.

“A power unit issue ended my race. However, for us, these are the sort of reliability problems you’d usually discover in pre-season testing, but, given our lack of running over the winter, unfortunately we’re likely to encounter such issues in the first few races of the year.

“Hopefully, we can take another step forward in China.”

Eric Boullier, Racing director, McLaren-Honda: “The fact that neither Fernando nor Jenson finished today’s race is of course disappointing, but they both drove extremely well in arduous, challenging and frustrating conditions. Moreover, in line with the MP4-30’s improved qualifying pace of yesterday, its race pace today was also a significant improvement over what it showed in Melbourne two weeks ago.

“Furthermore, the 62 laps driven by Fernando and Jenson this afternoon have garnered us additional invaluable data that will inform the ongoing intense development programme in which we are relentlessly engaged.

“Last but far from least, I want to say ‘merci beaucoup’ to our mechanics, a mettlesome troupe who have been working with indefatigable tenacity, in severe heat and humidity, ever since we arrived in Sepang.”

Yasuhisha Arai, Honda R&D senior managing officer – chief officer of motorsport: "Fernando was showing some good pace today until we had to pull his car out of the race with an ERS cooling issue. Obviously, that was a big disappointment for us.

“Jenson’s car then encountered a turbo issue, when we were just about to push to maintain his position within a busy, jostling pack.

“Both retirements were a result of the harsh use of the power unit within competitive race conditions, not the result of the high-temperature conditions encountered at this circuit.

“We’ll investigate the issues further and aim to improve things before Shanghai.”