2017 expectations vs reality
I said at the start of the season, following the disaster that the team experienced in winter testing, that I feared the worst for McLaren, and largely these fears have come to pass so far in 2017.
The team failed to get both cars to the finish line for the first seven rounds of the year, and even failed to start both cars at back to back events in Bahrain (Vandoorne) and Russia (Alonso). This wouldn’t be too bad if the performance was there when the cars were running but sadly this hasn’t been the case, with the Honda engine not only proving unreliable (at one point it was actually shaking itself apart due to unforeseen vibrations), but painfully slow. During these first seven races the team failed to score a point before the chaos of Azerbaijan finally yielded 9th position, and two points, for Fernando Alonso.
The following two races in Austria and Great Britain resulted in two DNFs for Alonso, but Stoffel Vandoorne showed small signs of progress with 12th and 11th place respectively. This was most likely due to Honda’s introduction of its ‘Spec 3’ engine that the Japanese manufacturer pushed to make ready for both drivers from Austria onwards.
With these new upgrades, and aided by the Hungaroring’s lesser power demands compared with other tracks, McLaren achieved the seemingly impossible: a double-points finish, with Vandoorne 10th and Alonso 6th. The Spaniard also managed to snatch the fastest lap of the race, capping a very encouraging weekend for McLaren-Honda after which they finally moved off the bottom of the constructors’ standings.
Prospects for the rest of 2017
It’s tempting then to think that the team have turned a corner, at last, and that the second half of the 2017 season will be better for the Woking team.
The result in Hungary was indeed very encouraging, and this new ‘Spec 3’ engine finally seems to be providing not only more speed, but crucially more reliability for the team, with them experiencing no engine related race retirements since this new power unit arrived.
However, we must remember that this result was achieved at the Hungaroring, which as mentioned above is one of the least demanding circuits in terms of power. If we think back to 2009, you will recall that Lewis Hamilton won that year’s Hungarian Grand Prix in his McLaren. That win, however, followed a poor run of results for McLaren and Hamilton, with that being their first win of the year after a previous best of 4th that came six races earlier.
So the Hungary result may not be entirely representative of what the team are now capable of, but they have certainly made a significant step forward in the last few months. How significant a step this is, and whether they can add to this progress over the summer, will only truly be seen once we get to Spa.