At the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, it was a positive conclusive showing for the Spec-2 Honda Power unit in the back of the McLaren, with the Spec-3 scheduled to roll out at the upcoming Austrian Grand prix.
Baku posed serious challenges for McLaren-Honda heading into the weekend given the power-hungry nature of the circuit and the bombardment of penalties for exceeding the limit on various power-unit appendages. But the race ended up hitting the right levels of chaotic conditions for McLaren’s strategists and drivers to have an impact, with Alonso running as high as 5th just behind Ricciardo, and Vandoorne on for points throughout.
The Red Flag on lap 22 of the race rewinded most of the strategies that had started to develop, and Vandoorne’s advantage of being on the Option tyre was penalised, as those he had jumped in an earlier pit-stop would change their prime tyres for free. This eventually resulted in a clear situation for Vandoorne to overcome – Beat the Sauber’s and finish 10th and in the points. Vandoorne would cut the 17-second gap, but would struggle to get alongside Ericsson at the end of the start/finish straight.
“After my final stop, I was catching the Saubers by 1.5s per lap, but once I’d caught them it was impossible to overtake. They were saving all their energy until the last corner; I was trying to do the same, in order to get the maximum boost available, but I just didn’t have the pace in the car to make it past them.”
– Stoffel Vandoorne
— Stoffel Vandoorne (@svandoorne) June 25, 2017
Fernando Alonso posted the 6th fastest lap and finished in 9th, picking up the team’s first points after surely expecting another difficult race. But Alonso didn’t make any mistakes around the challenging circuit, and the drivability of the MCL32 hold up even if the power unit problems continue to hold the team back. Alonso could only defend after the red flag, but he made it as difficult as he could as Vettel and Hamilton got through in their pursuit of Bottas and Stroll.
“Starting 19th because of our penalties, on one of our least competitive circuits, yet still scoring our first championship points is unreal; a complete surprise.
The race really came to us through the many retirements and a lot of action. I managed to stay away from the walls, just brushing them here and there.
We missed out on further opportunities because we weren’t quick enough in the race and couldn’t hold on to that position. Still, we got our first two points of the season today, so let’s just take that.”
– Fernando Alonso
The team still find themselves at the foot of the Constructors table given that Wehrlein scored for a second time this season in Baku after a great strategy in Spain saw the Sauber driver finish 8th too, amassing 5-points this season and doing enough to stay in 9th, a position the team needed last season to continue existing. McLaren are getting a Power Unit update in Austria, but with further grid penalties likely, the team will have to hope for some more chaotic races like the one we saw in Baku.