Reports in Spain suggest that Fernando Alonso has passed the medical tests he underwent today in Cambridge, England following his concussion in a testing accident and he is preparing to travel to Malaysia to make his McLaren Honda entrance in next weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Spaniard, 33, will have to prove to FIA doctors and technical staff prior to first practice, that he is able to get out of the cockpit of the car within five seconds, which should be a formality.
If confirmed, it will put the pressure onto Honda and McLaren, which has started the season in uncompetitive fashion, with a long road ahead on both reliability and performance.
Jenson Button and Alonso stand-in Kevin Magnussen soldiered through the Melbourne weekend with quiet stoicism, but with no disrespect to them, the presence of Alonso in a comprised car and engine package will ramp up the pressure, particularly on Honda, which was so keen to get him on board to lead their F1 challenge.
The engine had to be turned down to get mileage in the opening race, with Button registering 288km/h through the speed trap, 14km/h down on the Mercedes cars and 21km/h down on the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson.
Alonso knows the shortcomings of the package, having tested it pre-season and will be aware of the timetables and targets for the programme.
But for Honda in particular, it will be stressful having a two time world champion like Alonso being seen to struggle to get out of the Q1 qualifying session. They hired him to drive them on to get results, that’s how they operate and what they expect for their very large cheque. Consequently, expectations are automatically raised the moment he climbs into the car and therefore so is the profile of the situation and the consequent embarrassment for the team.
These are hard yards, which the management hope will be travelled as quickly as possible, so that they can return to being protagonists again.
“I expect the team to be competitive by the end of the season,” McLaren race director Eric Boullier told us. “We have targeted some power, torque and energy recovery targets. We know today that it is working, so it’s just a question of time.
“The biggest challenge for Honda to catch up is not having started a year after (the other manufacturers). it is having taken the decision (to enter) one and a half years ago.”
Equally it will be a testing weekend for Alonso. He will be fielding questions about the circumstances surrounding his accident, about which he has remained silent so far. But he will also be confronted with a resurgent Ferrari team, with every chance of being lapped at least once during the race by a scarlet car. Team principal Maurizio Arrivavene saying this weekend that the team can have confidence that it has taken a significant step and that it can target Mercedes,
“Our objective was Williams and Red Bull, but now we must be a little more convinced about our chances of reducing the gap to Mercedes,” he said. ” It’s just a question of continuing like this, with the right methodology.”