After a tough Azerbaijan Grand Prix for McLaren-Honda, the team is focusing on bringing an upgraded Formula 1 engine to the upcoming Austrian GP as Honda hopes to take the pressure off.
Fernando Alonso picked up McLaren’s first two points of the season finishing ninth in Azerbaijan, while team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne finished 12th behind both Saubers.
The Swiss outfit, equipped with the 2016-spec Ferrari engines and currently without a Team Principal after the departure of Monisha Kaltenborn, sits above McLaren in the constructors’ championship with a three-point advantage. Sauber is to use Honda’s engines next season while McLaren’s relationship with the Japanese manufacturer has become strained, with Zak Brown stating that the partnership is at a ‘fork in the road’ in June and Alonso strongly hinting at an exit.
Racing Director Eric Boullier said after the race at Baku, “The two world championship points we scored this evening are a validation of all we’ve worked towards in Baku this week.
“Both drivers raced with their customary vigour, but were also wary about getting caught up in any unnecessary incidents. Fernando drove a fantastic race, taking advantage of every opportunity, and I don’t feel ninth position is really a fair reflection of his achievements today.
“Stoffel also posted an extremely mature drive, and, while he had the pace to close down on the two Saubers – and the chance of a point-scoring position – they were able to keep just out of reach along the long straight that offers the best passing opportunity around this tricky circuit.
“For the strategy team, the engineers and our hard-working mechanics, today’s points are a welcome relief after an extremely tough weekend. They’ll have put a spring in our step as we prepare for better fortunes at the next race in Austria.”
The outfit tested an upgraded ‘Spec 3’ engine in Azerbaijan during Friday’s two practice sessions, according to Autosport, but after Alonso’s gearbox failure, McLaren decided to swap in an older engine to see if the gearbox had damaged the ‘Spec 3’ unit.
With Alonso bearing a 40-place grid-penalty for the race, the decision was made not to use the new engine for the race and save it for Austria (July 7-9) instead.
Honda chief Yusuke Hasegawa said to Autosport that “the gain is more than two or three tenths [of a second] with the new engine.
“From a reliability point of view, we didn’t have an ICE issue, so we can now concentrate on performance and power.
“We don’t see the actual lap time gain [on track], but from the power measuring sensor on the car, we saw the same difference from the dyno.
“We are pleased we could bring a performance update here. But although the upgrade is reasonable, it is still not good enough to catch the other engine manufacturers.”
When asked if there was a tangible gain in performance from the new engine, Alonso replied: “It’s difficult to say because we came from Canada and obviously you get here with race preparation in FP1, so we didn’t use the normal programme of fuel load, the normal programme of deployment [and] DRS.
“We were not using all these things as we were just in race preparation. We trust the data and if the data says the engine is delivering a bit more power, it’s welcome, but obviously the deficit is still quite big so we need to keep moving in that direction.”
Hasegawa said after the race at Baku that the ‘Spec 3’ engine, involving modifications on the internal combustion engine, turbocharger and MGU-H, will be available for both McLaren drivers in Austria.
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