McLaren-Honda had high hopes ahead of the Belgian weekend as the Japanese engine manufacturer prepared a big upgrade for its combustion engine, but it was left with torturous reliability issues after the first day.
Honda allocated 7 development tokens for its latest engine step, mainly aimed at improving the efficiency of the internal combustion engine. This was considered the weakest point of the Honda package, with drivers having to save fuel more than others during the race, hence losing performance and costly positions. The update leaves Honda with 3 tokens left this season, although it is unclear whether or not those will still be spent, as the Japanese company is shifting focus to its revised engine architecture for 2017. Team members have anonymously claimed the latest update is expected to bring about 20 bhp, equalling nearly 3 to 4 tenths a lap at the most favourable circuits.
Despite the high expectations, Fernando Alonso’s practice running was curtailed by reliability woes. The Spaniard could only complete three laps before his power unit failed.
“It’s obviously not ideal to start the weekend with a brand-new power unit, only do three laps with it, and then have to change it, especially as it means we’ll be taking penalties,” added the two-time champion.
“It’s not ideal, as I say, but you always prefer these things to happen in practice sessions rather than in races – and it’s worse still if you’re running in a points-scoring position when such mishaps occur. So let’s look on the bright side: as ever, we’ll learn from our mistakes and we’ll make sure we minimise the incidence of repeat occurrences in the future.
“We’ll be starting Sunday’s race from the back of the grid, but we’ll be trying our best to recover positions from there. I expect Lewis [Hamilton], who’ll be starting next to me, will be quicker than me, so I’ll try to hang on to his tail, put a rope around his car and get him to pull me through the field!”
Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button had a less action-packed day, however he encountered some setup problems.
“In the end we made a lot of progress today: after making set-up changes following a challenging first practice session this morning, we had a much improved second practice session in the afternoon.
Button was particularly happy with the handling of his car on the longer runs.
“As a result, we’ve now achieved a handling balance that works for us, but there’s still room for improvement. Our long run was reasonable; we seem relatively competitive, certainly compared to the cars against which we usually race.”
“Getting through to Q3 is always our aim on Saturdays, but what happens on Sundays is more important still. Put it this way, we didn’t get through to Q3 at Hockenheim yet I still finished eighth. And, here at Spa, it’s easier to overtake than on most circuits, so I’m feeling reasonably optimistic about the race,” said Button.