Spanish GP always an exciting prospect for Alonso

F1i 9/05/2017
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Fernando Alonso.

After his initial run last week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Fernando Alonso will fall back into his F1 painful routine for his home Grand Prix at Barcelona.

While racing on home turf always provides an extra dose of motivation, it should hardly help the McLaren driver’s cause as his team continues to struggle with Honda’s engine persisting engine woes.

Despite the troubles and negative outlook, Alonso is still looking forward to his weekend at the Circuit de Catalunya.

“I’m really excited about returning to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix,” he said in the team’s preview.

“It’s my home race, I’ve had some great times there, and the atmosphere is always crazy. We spend a lot of time there in pre-season testing, but there’s nothing quite like the emotion of racing there in front of your home fans. It’s a very special feeling.”

The future Indy 500 runner is guarded however over his prospects in Spain with progress on the engine front unlikely.

“After a run of difficult races for us, I’m not sure what we can expect from this weekend. We’re expecting some various new parts – which we bring to every race – but we can’t really focus too much on performance until we have solved our reliability issues. That’s always our focus.

“I know the team is working extremely hard to get to the bottom of our recent problems, and I am hopeful we can have a smooth race and a weekend with very few issues.

“For me, qualifying has been an exciting session in the past few races and I hope we can repeat that in Barcelona, but the most important thing will be to maximise whatever grid slot we achieve on Saturday, on race day.”

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Honda are at heart of the problem as Alonso’s anguish shows no sign of ending

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Fernando Alonso.

A brief camera shot of Fernando Alonso during the course of the Russian Grand Prix succinctly summed up his and McLaren’s current plight.

With barely half the race gone, it clocked the Spaniard back in McLaren’s hospitality suite shaking his head as he watched the race unfold.

In his heart of hearts, he knows he could have been in a potentially championship-winning car at Ferrari had he not, out of frustration and in the hope of something better, made the move across the grid to McLaren.

Already, his season had made for grim reading. Despite his protestations that he had driven some of the best races of his career, he now has four out of four DNFs to his name.

Suspension failure forced him out of the season opener in Australia with only seven laps remaining, while at the subsequent race in China he had clocked 33 laps when a driveshaft issue brought that particular afternoon to a premature end.

In Bahrain, his engine packed up within touching distance of the chequered flag while Russia was surely his nadir as the energy recovery system died this time after the warm-up lap and before he had turned a wheel in anger.

And the reality is that there are few signs on or off the track that things are about to get any better for him or the once front-running team of Formula 1. How it has come to this for McLaren is hard to see?

A walk around the team’s state-of-the-art McLaren Technology Centre shouts from every corner that it is a team of winners. Championship-winning cars from the likes of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton are on show not too much a trophy cabinet the envy of most of their rivals on the grid.

But it is that nostalgia, to a certain degree, which has got McLaren to this point. When its previous engine deal with Mercedes ended – and one wonders how a Merc-powered McLaren might fare – it tied up a long-term partnership with Honda.

This, we were told, would bring back the glory years, the renewal of a partnership that gave the team their most successful period with four straight constructors’ titles from 1988 to 1991.

The only problem is that Honda appear to have forgotten how to make competitive F1 engines, Alonso this weekend making the point that his car was losing a total of three seconds a lap on the straights in Sochi.

Even for a driver of Alonso’s ability, that is an insurmountable lack of power with which to make up with skill. The MCL32 is, the team argues, a good car.

The Honda engine clearly is not. There is the promise of an engine upgrade come Canada but, unless Honda engineers in Tokyo are able to wave a magic wand, it is not going to put them anywhere near the front of the grid.

It has led to an element of desperation at McLaren, perhaps best highlighted with Alonso being given the all clear to race at the Indy 500 and miss the Monaco Grand Prix as a consequence.

The thinking behind it from its mastermind, executive director at McLaren Zak Brown, is that it is McLaren’s best chance of winning anything currently. But that simply highlights the sorry demise for a team that last tasted victory in 2012.

It is also a desperate ploy to keep Alonso, although Brown told me this week he expected the two-time world champion to walk away at the end of the season unless the team can promise to be competitive in 2018.

But Brown himself also said that a previous prediction of being race winners by 2019 was now more realistically being put back now to 2020, by which point Alonso will be 38. That’s a lot of backmarking – and in reality that is sure to be the team’s plight for the rest of this season at the very least – to contend with.

Following his early Sochi exit, Alonso rather pleadingly asked for something from Honda “that I can fight with”. For now, the only fight is with his frustrations and, more broadly, his future.

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