Analysis of McLaren-Honda’s qualifying performance

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Mexico, Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguezmx

McLaren-Honda had the best car in yesterday’s qualifying session for the 2017 Mexican Grand Prix. That is the view of the team’s double-world champion driver Fernando Alonso after his strong pace showed in the opening part of the qualifying.

The Spaniard will start the race from the back of the field after Honda changed multiple engine components in his car over the weekend. The Japanese engine manufacturer made a tactical move with the changes to boost its chances for the remaining two races of the season by putting new components in the pool of the Spaniard.

With a lap time of 1:17.710, Alonso set the fifth fastest time in the first qualifying segment and was only two tenths of a second slower than Lewis Hamilton who recorded the best time in that session. The Spaniard then decided not to take part in the remainder of the qualifying to save tyres for the race.

"As of today, or at least today, we have the best car," Alonso is quoted by

"The car was handling incredible. In the corners it has very good grip and it allows you to drive instinctively and easily. It's been a while since we set a pink sector. It's probably the best weekend of the whole season - a spectacular weekend up until now."

Alonso’s Q1 time set on a ‘slower and greener’ track would have qualified him for the 9th place on the grid. His best first sector time was by 0.470 slower than the absolute best one, his second one by 0.4 slower and his third by 0.357 slower. His time in the last slow, twisty sector was very impressive considering that neither Kimi Räikkönen nor Valtteri Bottas could top that early Q1 sector time in the entire qualifying.

On the speed trap, Alonso recorded the 16th highest speed with 344.4km/h which was 11.2km/h lower than Esteban Ocon’s value. However, the Force India’s top speeds are not the best to compare with because their setup allowed them to reach outstanding speeds. The average of top speeds of the drivers in front of the Spaniard was rather in the range of 347.8km/h.

The Oviedo-born driver secured the ninth place on the grid in last weekend’s qualifying session for the American Grand Prix.

Alonso’s latest strong qualifying performances suggest that Honda managed to make big strides with its one-lap pure engine performance and engine modes. However, it is still to be confirmed that the Japanese power unit can repeat the speed over a stretch of a whole race distance.

On top of that, Honda is still seeking an answer for its reliability woes. Fernando Alonso could not finish last weekend’s American GP and Honda had to sacrifice grid positions for the Mexican GP to introduce new engine components.

Alonso got his 11th turbocharger, his 11th MGU-H and his 9th internal combustion engine. All these parts were only used on Friday as older parts were installed in Alonso’s car for Saturday to save mileage on the fresh components in a bid to make sure the Spaniard won’t be forced to take further penalties in the remainder of the season. As a reminder: drivers are only allowed to use four power units per season which means Honda has to stretch the life of its engine parts significantly over the winter.