McLaren’s improved showing at the Austrian Grand Prix was down to Honda extracting more performance from its ERS systems; according to the Japanese manufacturer’s Formula 1 boss Yusuke Hasegawa.
The British team endured a torrid time at the 2015 Red Bull Ring race as both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were hit with multiple grid penalties for changing power unit parts and the Honda engine struggled on what is considered a power circuit.
This year, Button qualified fifth and started third thanks to his prowess in the changeable conditions that occurred in Q3 and the penalties that relegate Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel.
The 2009 world champion ran second in the early stages and kept Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen at bay for a number of laps. Button ultimately finished sixth – his best result of the year.
Speaking at the pre-race press conference in Austria, Hasegawa explained that in addition to the improved turbo Honda had introduced at the Canadian Grand Prix, its ERS system is now delivering more power, which is a significant boost for the McLaren drivers on the straights.
He said: “Regarding the turbo, we introduced a new turbo in Canada. Of course we are never satisfied with the performance, there is always room to improve.
“Regarding an ERS system point of view, we have some limitations in the regulations, the maximum power is 120 Kw and also the energy is limited, so from that point of view I think we have achieved almost a decent, satisfying level from the turbine.
“Last year here the power was cut off in half of the straight, so it was a disaster last year. So from that point of view we are proud of that.”
But Hasegawa believes that Honda still needs to improve the internal combustion engine element of its V6 turbo power unit and explained that this would be tweaked for 2017.
He said: “On the other hand, the internal combustion point of view still we need to improve the engine performance and we are currently trying the very hard job to redesign, not redesign but to improve the engine for next year, so that is on-going.”
Honda is likely to introduce more upgrades to its power unit in the coming races, but Hasegawa explained that these would only be included when the manufacturer is confident they will deliver a performance step
He said: “We are hopeful that we can introduce some of the upgrades in a couple of races. I have already confirmed we see some good elements, so as soon as we are ready we will introduce it.”
Button’s result in Austria was his best F1 finish since he came sixth in the 2015 US Grand Prix, and the British driver reckons it was more than the team could have hoped for before the race.
He said: “We still had some great battles out there and to come home sixth is much better than we had hoped. I think we thought eighth was probably on the cards.
“The cars that beat us are all much quicker than us. To beat Williams, Haas, Force India – it’s a good day.”
Honda’s power unit performance in Austria moved McLaren in front of Toro Rosso, which is a clear sign of progress. The team was also boosted in the race by the cooler temperatures on Sunday and the two sets of soft tyres it had saved after Friday running, which was the preferred race compound.
Although Alonso retired with a battery failure, the demanding nature of the Red Bull Ring on power units means the team can take encouragement heading into its home race at Silverstone. This will be a real test to see if McLaren, and Honda, have made a genuine step or if it was track specific.
Button moved to down play expectations ahead of the British Grand Prix but said he was still looking forward to racing in front of his home crowd.
He said: “Silverstone is going to be tough. It won’t be like this unless it’s weird conditions, which it can be. It’s in the UK, so of course the weather is going to be terrible, so I look forward to that.
“It’s a tough week, especially for the mechanics. I think it’s put a smile on their face. So now we pack up, travel 1,500 kilometres to the UK and look forward to the British Grand Prix.”
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