Fernando Alonso’s return to McLaren is one of the biggest stories of the 2015 season. Here’s what he has to say about the team and the new relationship with Honda.
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It’s also the first to feature the input of former Red Bull Racing aero chief Peter Prodromou, who rejoined the team late last year, and holds the title of chief engineer.
The other key players behind the new car include technical director Tim Goss, director of engineering Matt Morris, and director of design and development programmes, Neil Oatley.
Ron Dennis said: “McLaren-Honda is a partnership focused on performance, technology and innovation, and there’s no better example of that than the results achieved in our first collaboration in the 1980s and 1990s. I was Team Principal all those years ago and, while I don’t tend to like looking back to the past, our previous record of sustained success was certainly instrumental in creating the confidence to make the decision to partner with Honda again. Now, there’s real hunger to demonstrate the capabilities of the huge talent pool we share between us, and I’m totally committed to driving progress and achieving further success.
“Although our renewed alliance began again many months ago, the launch of the McLaren-Honda MP4-30 marks the start of a lengthy journey. We’ve come a long way already and, although there’s a lot of work to do before we can expect to repeat the level of success we enjoyed together 25-or-so years ago, it’s already clear that there’s enormous synergy and potential in our partnership, and I’m positive that, together, we’ll get to where we want to be: winning Grands Prix and eventually World Championships as McLaren-Honda.”
McLaren and Honda endured another tough day in Abu Dhabi as Stoffel Vandoorne completed only two laps, bringing the MP4-29H/1×1 test car’s official total up to five for the two-day test – without setting a flying lap time.
The car appeared to be ready to run at the start of the day before an electrical issue intervened. In the afternoon Vandoorne did an installation lap, but when he went out for a four-lap run the car shut down on track. The team was not able to get it out again before the end of the day.
Although the whole point of the Abu Dhabi test was to find problems before running begins again in Jerez in February clearly both parties were expecting to do at least some representative mileage. This week has been poor reward given the effort involved in building the test car, which was a brand new chassis – and which in theory will not be used again, assuming that the new MP-30 is ready for the first test in February.
The team does still have the opportunity to use the older car in the first test and spend a bit more time developing the definitive model before it actually runs.
The other downside of the lack of mileage is that the team may have been using the Honda test in part as a way of evaluating whether or not Vandoorne is ready for a 2015 race seat, although in theory the Belgian will do a second year of GP2.
“Although this looked like another difficult day, this is just part of the learning experience we expected when we took on the interim car programme,” said team boss Eric Boullier. “It’s useful to discover these issues pre-Christmas, as it allows us to deepen our understanding of the complex integration between power-unit, ancillaries and the car.
“And, to be honest, I’d rather be ironing out these problems here in Abu Dhabi, than discovering them in Jerez, next February.
“It’s definitely been a positive for both McLaren and Honda to conduct this test – there have been some troublesome issues, but we’ve made progress. We’ve also made an excellent start to the relationship – communication and interaction have been great, and you can really feel the positivity and sense of purpose in the garage. Any mileage we accrued this week would simply have been a bonus.”
Honda motorsport boss Yasuhisa Arai added: “In short, this was a tricky day. We encountered system start-up and data communication issues that prevented us from running as we’d planned.
“However, actually conducting testing at the track enabled us to understand the complexity of the system at a deeper level. We now know what is necessary to further develop the system, and we’ll work together with McLaren to be ready for the next test – at Jerez in February.”
Eric Boullier revealed some time ago that the interim MP4-29 would be given the ‘H’ designation.
The team said via Twitter: “Getting set for Silverstone tomorrow for a filming day. We’ll be parading the interim Honda-engined MP4-29H/1X1 & 2 classic McLaren-Hondas.”
Stoffel Vandoorne will be at Silvesrtone, but is only scheduled to drive the older cars.
The team is obviously now on course to run the car at the Abu Dhabi test on the Tuesday and Wednesday after the Grand Prix, although it remains to be seen who might drive there.
Honda F1 boss Yasuhisa Arai was non-committal today when asked about plans to extend future power unit supply beyond McLaren.
McLaren will initially have exclusive use of the new V6 when the Japanese manufacturer rejoins the sport next season.
“For year 2015, McLaren is our only customer,” said Arai in China today. “I don’t think about the future, because we want to concentrate on next season.
“Of course we want to have good results next season and see the results from other manufacturers. If teams want to use our engine or power unit, we can deliver after year 2016, but right now there are no plans.”
Meanwhile Arai confirmed that Honda’s new UK F1 base, not far from Red Bull Racing in Milton Keynes, will be ready soon.
“We will open June this year. Now it’s still under construction but that factory is to do the engine maintenance for the races and rebuilding the Formula One engine and also to go to the race-track for the track side service.”
McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale says that the team is delighted that Honda’s 2015 engine is already running on the dyno – but cautioned that there is still a long way to go to create a competitive package.
Honda released audio of its new engine earlier this week.
“It is exciting, it’s always good when you hear a new engine fire up, it’s a great moment for the whole organisation, and a moment of satisfaction for everybody,” said Neale. “Honda moved heaven and earth to be able to get the first engine built, constructed and running. It’s a bit like – dare I use the metaphor of pregnancy? – you focus on the first nine months and then you realise that it’s only then that the hard work starts.
“While we have something that’s running we’re under no illusion how much work we have to do together to be able to develop a competitive power unit in terms of the engine, the ERS system, the battery technology, and all of the systems that go round that. Particularly for us as McLaren doing it twice in two years is a fairly ambitious project. But we’re really excited about that.
“However at this time of year with only some frightening number of weeks to go to the end of this year all hands at the moment are focussed on working with Mercedes and the integration of that engine, and the development of our fuel and lube programme with Exxon Mobil, so that we’re able to put a high performance package on the deck, and a reliable one, for the start of next year.”
Meanwhile on the subject of Peter Prodromou Neale said it was unlikely that Red Bull would be very keen to release its current head of aero early. He is expected to join the team in 2015.
“Peter’s a great guy and he’s an important part of their operation. I can’t see any incentive for Red Bull to release him early. We’d be very happy to have him starting here tomorrow morning! But we do fully respect Red Bull’s position as we do when recruiting anybody from another organisation.
“They know that, we understand the position with Red Bull, and we fully respect Christian’s position. Who knows what will happen over the course of a year, but it’s entirely at Red Bull’s gift, it’s for them to decide. It’s not for us, not for McLaren to decide that.”