Before testing started, both McLaren and Honda spoke optimistically about the progress they had made from last year. Zak Brown and Yusuke Hasagawa both made predictions of podiums. This torrent of positivity sucked me right in, along with many others. Probably more through desperation than sense, I really believed that McLaren could pull it together this year.
Sadly, I was wrong to allow such optimism to cloud my vision. Within 30 minutes of testing, all of those hopes were well and truly smashed. It really was a new low for the team. What made it worse was the fact that the engine was wrong before it was even built. Right from the preliminary design stages, the oil tank was the wrong shape and size. Having to adjust the tank meant the team lost the entirety of day 1 testing.
It was embarrassing for the team. Weeks of build up and confidence about a package that would take the fight to Mercedes dissolved into disaster.
A big step forward, but still no good
Their performance in Melbourne was a pretty impressive turnaround considering how poor they were testing. Completing the weekend without an engine failure was a major bonus. A good step forward was to keep the thing running for longer than 10 laps, that just shows how dire the situation is. Fernando Alonso was scathing after the race, his blunt recognition that his team are only good enough for last place was horribly accurate. His team mate Vandoorne was last in Melbourne, incidentally.
There is still absolutely no performance in this current power unit, even if Honda have managed to fix the problems. The fact is, last place is where they are.
A scathing assessment
Alonso has given McLaren-Honda every possible to chance to build him a worthy car. Year 3 was always going to be the time to challenge for the title. Now we are here, and Fernando is having to give his team yet another chance. Second chances a very rare in Formula 1. This is the pinnacle of motor sport, only absolute perfection is acceptable. I wonder just how much longer the Spanish superstar is going to allow this to continue. To be fair to the guy, he has done everything that has been asked of him, and he has remained loyal to his contract. These rumours of unrest are not new however, McLaren should consider themselves lucky he is still in the car.
Desperation for McLaren-Honda?
There is another fortnight before McLaren-Honda face their next weekend of scrutiny. The jump they made from testing to Melbourne was close to miraculous, but now they need to repeat that feat and arrive in China with a car worthy of respect. If they don’t, they may find themselves looking for a new driver, and good luck persuading Jenson Button to sit in it.