After looking like they had some promising pace throughout the practice sessions this weekend, the McLaren Honda F1 team finished just outside the points once again, at the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso, back in the MP4-31 after sitting out the Bahrain Grand Prix with broken ribs sustained in his huge shunt in Round 1, finished ahead of team-mate Jenson Button but was disappointed with the end result.
“Today wasn’t easy. We didn’t quite have the pace to record a good result and finish in the points,” said Alonso. “We chose a two-stop strategy and tried to benefit from that, but the early Safety Car didn’t help us, and our race didn’t really work out as planned after that. That’s the way it is, but it’s a shame.
“We need to look in detail at the areas in which we need to improve – we ran among a lot of different cars this afternoon, so we should have some useful reference points from which to gauge our respective strengths and weaknesses.
“On a positive note, today’s race was the first proper long run I’ve completed in this year’s car – I didn’t ever finish a 50-lap stint during testing, and I retired early in Melbourne because of the accident.
“There’s a long way to go, but we’ll keep improving. I’m already looking forward to the next race.”
Button was slightly more optimistic about the team’s performance, believing that although they were right to chance the two-stop strategy, it was probably the wrong way to go at the end of the race.
“My start was good: I made up a lot of places and was able to take the battle to the other cars,” said Button. “Our pace on the Option tyre during the first stint was also pretty good – it was fun racing the quicker cars.
“When the Safety Car came out, there was mayhem in the pit-lane because Nico [Hulkenberg] was trying to slow everyone down to help his team-mate. After that stop, we seemed to be sitting in a strong position, but we were running the Medium compound, and we just seemed to stand still compared with the others.
“We tried to do a two-stopper – which didn’t work out – so then we decided to fit the Option for the final stint. Given our position just outside the points, we thought we might as well give it a go.
“Perhaps fitting the Option at the end was the wrong choice – I could have stayed out until the end on the Medium, but I decided to have some fun by fitting softer [i.e., faster] rubber – but it just couldn’t make its performance last to the end. Still, as I say, it was worth having a crack at it.”
One positive point for the McLaren F1 team is that they had no reliability issues all weekend with either car or engine, which hopefully signals that they are now moving forward with power unit development and we should see further improvements from the Woking based squad as we head to Russia.