Fernando Alonso finished the Japanese Grand Prix in 11th position, leaving the Spaniard frustrated about the team's ongoing struggles to extract additional performance out of their Honda engine.
The usually measured Spaniard enjoyed an initially solid start, moving up into 8th place. Frustration began soon after however, as cars flew past him and his team mate with considerable ease.
Alonso was first heard on the team radio saying "We are getting passed like running a GP2 car. This is really embarrassing".
15 laps later, this worsened when Max Verstappen, who Alonso managed to keep behind for several laps, managed to get past, again on the main straight, and with a considerable speed advantage. Alonso reiterated "GP2 engine, GP2 engine".
After the race, having cooled off slightly, he confirmed Honda's home race had been a difficult one for him, despite finishing 25 seconds ahead of team mate Jenson Button.
"It is a very frustrating situation yes. People are braking late, missing apexes, making mistakes. I do my best but they simply fly past on the straights, there is nothing we can do".
When asked about the future, Alonso said he aimed to be there in 2016 and confirmed that everyone at Honda and McLaren is working hard to get things sorted by next year. How big of a recovery that will be is unsure, as the car is now 2 full seconds down on the Mercedes pace-setting cars, and there's only so much one can do during a winter.
Regulations hampering progress
In fact, one of the major problems for Honda are the engine development restrictions, forcing the team to focus on items that can still be developed, even though they might realise thats some other aspects are problematic as well. With each year a diminishing amount of engine development allowed on the current specification of engines, this means that going into 2016, the following items are impossible to change:
- Cylinder block dimensions
- Camshafts and valve drive, including the gear train between crankshaft and camshaft
- Crank throw, main bearing journal diameter, rod bearing journal diameter
- Air valve system, including compressor, air pressure regulation devices
This means that from a total of 66 tokens available on the entire engine, 51 are modifiable. Still even though teams could spend 32 development tokens through the entire development of their 2015 engines, this will be limited to just 25 in 2016, requiring struggling engine manufacturers like Honda and Renault to focus on what is essential, even though they could potentially improve a lot more.
Widespread changes of the MGU-K and MGU-H for instance, two items where Honda is expected to do major changes, already add up to 17 development tokens, leaving just 8 to spread among the injection system, oil systems, the ignition, combustion, etc. The company however did spend 3 tokens on its combustion defining elements during 2015, hence may feel secure not to update those again into 2016.
The token system also explains why engine manufacturers are extremely cautious to spend their tokens, as a component change should be right immediately, as designers are almost impossible to spend another bunch of tokens on the same component again.
The entire system of increasing development restrictions has led Ron Dennis to reiterate his call for more open engine development.
"Honda is completely and extremely committed to Formula One, but the problem are the restrictions in development. In every area, also for the chassis, we have rules that push teams into spending more than they would otherwise. Honda as such have to be extremely inventive in the way they introduce developments".
That's a logical request from a team looking toimprove, with Renault in a similar boat, while Mercedes is attempting to protect its advantage by rejecting to allow more engine development in the near future.