Fernando Alonso reckons McLaren has made “minutes” of Formula 1 performance progress so far in the 2016 season, and Honda has brought more engine upgrades for the team to use at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.
The double world champion is currently 13th in the drivers’ championship and has scored a best result of fifth so far this season, a result that came at the Monaco Grand Prix. McLaren is seventh in the constructors’ standings, just three points behind Toro Rosso.
Honda is reported to have spent a number of its power unit development tokens improving its internal combustion engine and turbo compressor ahead of the race in Spa as part of a drive to improve its combustion efficiency, an area where it is thought to lag behind its engine producing rivals Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault.
McLaren’s progress in 2016 as already been significant compared to its disastrous season in 2015 when it suffered numerous reliability problems, grid penalties and only finished ninth in the constructors’ championship.
Speaking at the pre-race press conference in Spa, Alonso explained that the team’s improvements could be measured in terms of minutes of race time, not just seconds.
He said: “I think if we look at the team 12 months ago, we were in a very different situation. We were starting last here using I think the ninth engine, we were lapped two times here last year and also in Germany [and] Hungary, so we’ve definitely made a step [of] minutes, not even seconds in a race total time.
“So definitely we are in a much better position. We are enjoying [that] and the progress is definitely very optimistic for next year as well.
“We are looking forward to this weekend. We also have some updates on the car. We know that Spa and Monza will be tricky races for us in terms of layout and characteristics of the circuits, but we are definitely enjoying our time now, seeing all this progress [and we’re] hungry for more.”
When asked if he wanted to see McLaren’s focus remain on 2016 or move fully onto its 2017 car, Alonso was unequivocal: “I think we want to be world champions,” he said. “[And] this is not possible this year any more.”
Alonso was also asked about speculation regarding his future in F1 beyond the duration of his current contract with McLaren, which is due to expire at the end of next season.
The Spaniard explained that he would consider his position after driving McLaren’s 2017 car, which will be built in accordance with F1’s new aerodynamic rules and the wider tyres provided by Pirelli that are expected to produce a combination that should make laptimes significantly faster.
Alonso also described how the performance of the current F1 cars make him feel “a little bit sad” when compared to the machines he drove earlier in his career, and stated that if the new-for-2017 cars felt more exciting to drive he would consider staying in the sport for longer.
He said: “I’ve said some times already that, next year, I finish my contract with McLaren so I will have to make a decision if I am to continue in F1 or not. I think, in the last couple of years in this turbo engine era the cars are a little bit different to drive.
“I don’t say if it is better or worse – everyone will have his opinion – but I have been lucky to drive 2003 cars, 2004, 2005, even until 2009, the cars were, in my opinion, more extreme. [They were] more F1 cars, so now, when I see GP2 running three seconds away in FP1, it feels a little bit sad.”
“The [current era] cars are heavy, no grip, we save fuel, we save tyres, we save everything from lap one, so it’s a bit against the instinct of the driver and next year is a big question mark.
“I think, with the new regulations, everything will change a little bit. If the cars are fun to drive, exciting to drive, I will probably stay longer and drive more years in F1 but, if the cars are still giving me the feeling I have had in the last couple of years, I will probably stop.”
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