Fernando Alonso‘s return to McLaren in 2015 turned out to be a stormy period in his career. It eventually led to Alonso walking away from the sport in 2018 after four frustrating seasons.
Alonso exited Ferrari after a five-year stint which did not bring him the much anticipated third drivers’ world championship. The hot-headed Spaniard was never a driver to hold back and expressed his frustrations with the lack of success with the Italian team.
Alonso returned to McLaren after his one-year controversial stint in 2007. He had high hopes that with new engine partner Honda, the McLaren team could pave the way to that elusive third championship for him.
But the McLaren-Honda partnership that hoped to recreate their championship winning ways of the 1980s hit turbulence from the very start. The Honda engine was neither reliable nor powerful.
The McLaren drivers found it difficult to even finish a race, let alone secure a podium or a win. Alonso in his trademark style unleashed some rather acerbic remarks over team radio to vent his frustration.
In one such instance, at the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix, the Spaniard referred to the Honda engine as a “GP2 Engine”. To appease Alonso, the McLaren team ended their partnership with Honda after the 2017 season. The new partnership with Renault as engine supplier saw McLaren improve in 2018.
But the team was nowhere near race-winning standards and Alonso with no better alternative, chose to walk away from the sport. The “GP2 engine” comment in front of the Honda bosses in Suzuka has haunted him ever since.
Honda went on to supply Toro Rosso in 2018 and then the senior Red Bull Racing team in 2019. Red Bull won three races last season and the Honda engine made a big performance leap.
“It feels like GP2. Embarrassing. Very embarrassing,” was Alonso’ comments in 2015 about the Honda engine. It added to the image Alonso already had as a tough personality to deal with though he was exceptionally talented.
Alonso speaking to F1 Racing expressed regret and explained his “GP2 engine” comments. Alonso said: “It came from a place of frustration and maybe I should not say that, but I didn’t say it in the TV pen or the press conference.
“I was talking to my engineer in a private conversation [which was broadcast]. It was not meant to be public. But the engine was very bad.”
Alonso felt that any other driver in his situation would have been equally frustrated. He continued: “The first year in Jerez [pre-season testing], in four days we did seven laps. Now Honda wins a race and I receive a lot of messages that read: ‘GP2 engine wins now, it should be a sad day for you.’
“I’m very happy, but the engine I had in the car was not the same as the one winning in Brazil.
“If a top driver today goes through the performance that I went through, I could not imagine what they would say. In 2015 I was always fighting to get out of Q1 and had 575 places of penalties.
“I say things that I think and that I believe. That’s because I believe those things are the truth. Sometimes I can be wrong. But I don’t see things that I do that others are not doing.
“I don’t read extra things from what others are saying, but I see mountains and mountains of the things I say…”
This much repeated GP2 engine comment might have cost Alonso a drive with the Honda-powered Andretti Autosport team for the Indianapolis 500 in 2020. It was reported that Honda vetoed the deal because of the previous history between Alonso and the Japanese manufacturer.