Famed Japanese firm Honda endured, what can best be described as a horror show at their home Grand Prix on Sunday – and it’s not going to be getting better any time soon.
Where last week’s race in Singapore offered the McLaren-Honda pairing a glimmer of some points, a double retirement under the lights left the Anglo-Japanese effort with nothing to show for their efforts.
Unlike Singapore, both of the McLaren’s saw the chequered flag, albeit outside of the points, much to the dismay of Honda’s chief motorsport office (and R&D senior managing director) Yasuhisa Arai. “Disappointingly, we missed out on 10th position, and the final point on offer,” commented Arai. He added words of encouragement: “Through rain and sunshine, our fans gave us the support we needed throughout the three days of the grand prix weekend. We hope that we’ll be able to give back to them soon, by fighting every step of the way to improve in the remaining races of the season and development for next year. I cannot say thank you enough for everyone’s support.”
At a time when the rest of the field has been making development gains, McLaren-Honda can appear stagnant; however the development is there, but against Mercedes, Ferrari and even the lacklustre Renault, their rate of improvement requires context.
Realistically Honda does appear to have reasonably strong internal combustion engine and their energy recovery unit has also improved, as some of the overheating and other reliability issues have been overcome – albeit not totally, as Singapore made evident. On top of that, there are also apparent issues with energy retention and release, meaning that the McLaren paring are occasionally forced to “turn down their engines” during a Grand Prix.
On Sunday, Fernando Alonso took 11th place, while Jenson Button was adrift in 16th place (not aided by a couple of poor pitstops). Two finishes was a credible effort, but it is not enough when one considers the calibre of talent on hand and Alonso was keen to make that known over the team radio.
Calls that the Honda power unit was comparable with a GP2 Series engine may have brought some sniggers to the viewers, but when watching Alonso and Button get passed on the main straight with such ease, one can understand the frustration of the drivers.
Alonso is a man is expects the best, yet even his patience is being stretched beyond limits. Button, on the other hand, merely appears to have settled into a constant state of resignation, as he waits for a dire 2015 season to draw to a close.
For the McLaren’s to be 15kph and 17kph off the top the top of the speed traps in the fast sector two in Suzuka is not good enough, but such are the regulations, there is precious little that will change until 2016 and even the token system that is in place to monitor power unit development may hold Honda back.
As it stands, Alonso and Button have little choice but to withstand more competitive pain.