Following the final qualifying session together with Honda, McLaren was left somewhat disappointed as it dropped down the pecking order compared to the practice sessions. McLaren's drivers and Eric Boullier attributed this to the lack of additional power of the Honda engine in qualifying mode.
Although Honda does have some qualifying specific settings for its engine - contrary to Renault, the difference doesn't seem to be all that impressive. More often than not, McLaren dropped back in qualifying as competing Mercedes-powered teams had a bit of extra power in hand for when it really matters.
“Like yesterday, we’ve seen that here in Abu Dhabi the midfield pack is extremely close", said McLaren's Eric Boullier after qualifying.
"So we knew getting into Q3 would definitely be touch and go here, although we were hoping for a little bit more from our package. However, as we feared, the other cars around us were able to turn up the tools in their armoury just enough to pip us into Q3, and we narrowly missed out.
“Although we’re a little frustrated that we weren’t able to demonstrate in Q2 the same strong pace we saw from both drivers in FP3 and Q1 – where we were running strongly as the fourth fastest car on track – there are still positives to take from today’s running. Both drivers have used their time wisely to set up their cars not only for tomorrow’s race but fine-tune their packages in order to gather important data for the future."
Drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso agreed with that point of view. Alonso said over the radio immediately after one of his flying laps "Ok, we lost 2 tenths on every straight, so yeah.... we know..." but later wasn't all that unhappy with qualifying 11th.
“I’m happy with 11th – it’s what we deserved today", said Alonso.
"I don’t think we were super-quick in qualifying, and it’s not worth making it into Q3 to be ninth or 10th and then start on a scrubbed set, when the guy just behind you can start on fresh tyres. Tomorrow we’ll be that guy, and we’ll take advantage of the situation.
“We extracted the maximum, but when we get to qualifying everyone seems to have a magic qualifying mode button for their engines, so we step back a little bit.
“I’m also happy with the car balance – it has been good all weekend: we were seventh and eighth this morning and we’re looking quite competitive on the long runs, so for race pace we should be there and tomorrow we have a good opportunity to score points.
“I hope tomorrow we will put on a good show and an exciting race, especially now that there’s no pressure for anyone, and there are no championship points to fight for as nearly all positions are basically decided.”