Stoffel Vandoorne's running really was the only positive that McLaren Honda could take away from Friday's running at Circuit de Catalunya. As the Belgian ran 60 laps, local hero Alonso had an extremely frustrating day, with a dramatic oil leak after just 3 corners in FP1.
Alonso's technical issue was another episode in the already dramatic saga of Honda engine reliability. Using a previously used engine, the Spaniard entered the track for an installation lap before having his rear wheels locked and spinning off on the exit of Turn 2.
The Spaniard, who immediately left the track and went on to play tennis for 2 hours before returning for FP2, said in between session that problems weren't really a surprise for him.
"It was more-or-less expected that we would have these problems right now, so it was a shame because here in front of the home people it's frustrating.
"But at the end of the day we've had this year some good Fridays and Saturdays, but bad Sundays as we haven't finished a race yet. But this one I have a feeling it will be a bad Friday and a good Saturday, good Sunday."
The subsequent amount of oil that leaked from the car indicates a serious problem, which was later confirmed by Honda's Chief Engineer, Yusuke Hasegawa: "Shortly after exiting the garage in FP1 a mechanical issue caused an oil leak forcing him to stop out on track. We opted to change the PU before the start of FP2, and we are still investigating the root cause of the problem."
Given the sudden lock of the rear wheels, it may well be that a bearing or other moving component failed, launching it out of its usual position and puncturing the engine, allowing oil and coolant to escape. In any case, it looks like the ICE is completely lost.
Having no doubt about the complete failure, the McLaren Honda team decided to change the engine completely ahead of FP2, resulting in another number of laps of calibration for Alonso: “The poor show in the afternoon session was due to the fact that first of all, you need to calibrate the engine when you put in a new power unit, so in the first couple of runs the power was a little bit inconsistent.
"We ran out of time, so we put on a new set of tyres even though not everything was calibrated. Towards the end of the session, when we put in more fuel and we were running in similar conditions to everyone else, we were doing more or less the lap time we were expecting, close to our main competitors for the race."
While this resulted in more headaches at Woking and Sakura - with McLaren CEO Zak Brown meanwhile also having had a meeting with Mercedes, Stoffel Vandoorne had a quiet but very solid day, enabling the team to evaluate all new components that they brought to the track at Spain.
“Everything ran smoothly on my side", said the Belgian. "however, we saw that on Fernando’s side it was a bit more complex. Unfortunately, he missed FP1 and didn’t do so many laps in FP2, so it still shows that reliability is one of the key issues we have to work on for the next few races.
“We’ve brought quite a few upgrades to this race, but at the moment it’s different to judge any of them individually. At the moment, everything is working pretty much as expected, and tonight there’s a lot to analyse to see exactly how the day ran. Hopefully tomorrow we can fine-tune everything a bit, and extract a little bit more.”
Vandoorne ended the day 13th fastest, Alonso 20th.