Fernando Alonso believes McLaren-Honda had a good opening day of practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix, finishing the day in seventh.
The Spaniard had a strong performance in Free Practice 1 after he finished in fifth with a time of 1:36.510, and for the session he received the upgraded Honda engine that was only made available to him. This results in him receiving a 30-place grid penalty on Sunday, even though he will not use the engine again this weekend past today. Throughout the opening session, his performance was strong and managed to stay ahead of the Red Bull Racing of Daniel Ricciardo.
This progress continued into the second practice session as he finished in seventh, again ahead of Ricciardo. Alonso will revert back to the Singapore engine for Saturday’s final practice onwards, the same spec engine that team-mate Jenson Button used on Friday.
Since the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix, the Sepang International Circuit has under gone some renovations, including nine corners being altered. The whole venue has also been resurfaced along with updating drainage and run off areas. Friday was the first day teams and drivers experienced the new circuit, Alonso believes the new asphalt is a good improvement with him experiencing a lot more grip.
“We completed a good number of laps today and got through all the tests we’d planned to do,” said Alonso. “We even managed to conduct some experiments aimed at next year’s car, which was really positive.
“We still need to see how well we can do tomorrow, especially in FP3, where we’ll be concentrating on long runs. For me, qualifying is going to be pretty short because of my penalties: I’ll do a lap to set a time within 107% and then I’ll watch it on TV. Then we’ll try to save as many sets of new tyres as possible. The new asphalt is a good improvement: there’s a lot more grip.
“Last year, my best Friday time was a 1m42.5s; this year I set 1.36.2 – so that’s six seconds in one year. If you consider the car has improved by two- to two-and-a-half-seconds, we get a further three seconds from the asphalt. It’s a good sensation to have so much grip. The weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday could be rainy – we still don’t know if quali or the race will be affected – so starting from behind might not be too bad for us.”