The McLaren-Honda F1 team have made solid progress in 2016, coming on leaps and bounds from where they were this time last year, when race retirements were a regular occurrence. Although they are still not quite where they would like to be just yet, they are still moving forward with every update they bring.
It has been tough going for the Woking based squad’s drivers, and F1’s elder statesmen, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, who have put in endless effort in the last couple of seasons, and are now just starting to see the ripening fruits of their labour, achieving some positive results to boost morale.
TCF takes a look at how Button and Alonso have fared in comparison to each other at the halfway stage of the 2016 season, in our head-to-head report.
Due to the raft of technical problems experienced by the McLaren-Honda squad since the Japanese manufacturers return to F1 and re-kindling their legendary partnership with the British squad in 2015, it is difficult to make any kind of true comparison between the team-mate’s, although this season a picture has started to build.
As has often been the case throughout his long career, Button is currently being outshone by his team-mate in qualifying, with Alonso coming out on top nine times to the Brit’s three. However, the 2009 world champion’s impressive reading of the weather conditions in Austria, allowing him to be out on track on the right tyres, at the perfect time, saw him take third place on the grid in Spielberg and McLaren’s best qualifying position of the season. The Brit went on to secure sixth in that race, his best result of the year so far, doing a brilliant job to keep himself in the mix throughout the race without losing much ground.
Despite Button leading the way in higher race finishing positions seven to five, Alonso has been able to accumulate more points than his team-mate, with best results of fifth in Monaco and sixth in Russia, compared to a sixth in Austria and eighth in Germany for the Brit. The Spaniard also had a non-start in Bahrain, following a horrific accident in the first round of the season in Australia, which saw the double world champion not only lose points in Melbourne, but have to sit on the side-lines at the next race too, after medical staff deemed him unfit to race.
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Alonso’s fifth place finish at the Monaco Grand Prix, was probably McLaren’s most encouraging drive of the season, the Spaniard able to keep the likes of Nico Hulkenberg in the Sahara Force India and Nico Rosberg, both with Mercedes powered machines, behind him for the entirety of the race was a particularly brilliant feat, and was the Woking based squad’s best team result of the year, with Button also bringing home two points in ninth.
Lately, Button has begun to out-do his team-mate on the race finish front, coming home in a higher position than Alonso in four out of the last five races of the season prior to the summer break, with Germany a particularly strong effort from the Brit. After making up a number of places following a good start, Button was able to use this tyre management and fuel saving skills to perfection, and capitalise on the high tyre degradation on the Williams of Valtteri Bottas, and pass the Finn in the closing stages of the grand prix. Alonso meanwhile was unable to maintain his preservation for such lengths, and faded out of the points in the end.
In the Driver’s Championship however, Alonso has the upper-hand, currently sitting in thirteenth place to Button’s fifteenth and with twenty-four points to the Brit’s seventeen. But how will the latter half of the season play out? Will McLaren start to challenge further up the order? Can Button overtake his team-mate in the point’s game?
With development tokens still available to Honda this year, there are certainly more updates on the horizon, and with improved performance from the MP4-31, we should start to see the magic on track that both men are truly capable of.
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Who will be driving for the squad in 2017 is still very much up in the air. Alonso has a contract in place for next season, which makes it highly likely he will stay, whereas Button’s future is far from clear. McLaren could bring in their upcoming protégé Stoffel Vandoorne, who has already proved he deserves a shot, after scoring McLaren’s first point of the year in Bahrain when filling in for the injured Alonso.
The Brit’s wealth of experience in F1 however is priceless, and he is still every bit the racer that he was back in the early days of his career and when he won the world championship in 2009. After all the hard work and effort he has put in to getting the McLaren-Honda team where they are today, it would be harsh to see him dropped when things are just starting to take shape.
Click on the link to read our Scuderia Toro Rosso report!