McLaren will give Honda’s latest Formula 1 power unit the “green light” for use over the rest of the 2016 season after Fernando Alonso successfully tested it during free practice at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Ahead of the weekend in Sepang, the Spaniard was given a new internal combustion engine, turbo, MGU-H, energy store and control electronics after Honda spent two tokens (it now only has one of the 33 allowed remaining) making its engine block more durable and lighter, and upgrading its exhaust.
Alonso finished fifth in FP1 and seventh in FP2 using the new engine.
As a result of using yet more power unit parts three races after he accumulated 60 places worth of grid penalties at the Belgian Grand Prix, Alonso will lose 30-places ahead of the race in Sepang, which means he will set just one qualifying lap in Q1 then sit it out,
After seeing Alonso’s Friday practice performance with the new engine, McLaren’s racing director Eric Boullier stated that the team would use the new upgrade for the rest of the year after Honda picked up the data it needed to prove its worth.
He said: “We are happy with today, we did a lot of miles with no issue at all. So it’s a green light for the future, for the end of the season.
“It’s mainly reliability-driven, so it’s a reinforced block and a few things on the engine. There is a possibility to exploit the power unit a little bit better, but it’s definitely not just pure power on top.
“Fernando made a positive start to his weekend by immediately dropping into the groove and looking impressively quick at times. It’s frustrating that he’s facing a grid penalty, but it’s something we’d already factored into our weekend.
“We’ll work hard to provide him with a car and a strategy to best cope with that setback on Sunday.”
McLaren knew Alonso would be facing multiple engine penalties after he lost one power unit as a result of his huge accident at the Australian Grand Prix and then encountered mechanical problems during the first half of the season.
Speaking in Sepang paddock ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix, the double world champion told reporters that that when it realised he would be hit with grid penalties, McLaren came up with a plan for him to receive the new engines in Belgium and Malaysia – two races that are often disrupted and usually feature plenty of overtaking – to minimise their impact and try to ensure good reliability for Honda’s home race in Japan.
He said: “We had a plan from the middle of the season of where to introduce new engines. Obviously I lost one in Australia in the accident, [so] we were on engine number two already in the second race, and we had some further problems. We knew these penalties [would] come.
“One of the best places was Spa, because of the condition of our engines at that point, and the second best possibility was Malaysia, because the weather could play a big factor in the race.
“And also Japan is the next race, our home grand prix, and we want to arrive there with some safety in terms of reliability.”
Despite the grid penalties, Alonso is still hoping to finish in the points in Malaysia as he came through from the back of the grid to finish seventh in the incident-filled race at Spa.
He said: “I’m ready to take the penalty. In Spa, starting last, I was fourth or fifth after many incidents, so you never know.
“We will start the weekend and the race optimistic about the chances of being in the points, and that’s the target for both cars. Even if I start last hopefully we can recover places quite soon.”
Boullier indicated that Alonso’s McLaren teammate Jenson Button will not use the upgraded engine components at this race as his power units have not come to the end of their mileage life.
The team also wants to avoid grid penalties at Suzuka, which means the 2009 world champion will have to wait until the US Grand Prix at the earliest to try the upgrade.
“Obviously they don’t want to take any penalties in Suzuka, which is completely understandable,” Button told the pre-event press conference in Malaysia. “It’s basically our second home race. Here, I personally won’t be having a penalty. It will be a normal weekend for me.”
What do you make of the news that Honda will give Alonso an upgraded engine to try in Malaysia? Will it make a difference for the rest of McLaren’s season? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.