This was the worst McLaren Formula 1 weekend for a very long time. Not in terms of results, but in terms of hope, potential progress from Honda, belief in comments before the weekend that there might be some improvement, it has all gone wrong and Alonso should get out as soon as he can.
The Honda engine in Alonso’s car didn’t even manage to complete the formation lap before stuttering out of life. We didn’t even get to see Alonso, one of the best drivers of the modern era, defend and lose positions in the opening stint because of the power deficit.
After failing to even make the start, Alonso said,
“There is nothing we can do from a driver’s point of view. We drive as fast as we can, we help the team as much as we can, we prepare for the race with fitness and our engineers and then we come here and it switches off.
It’s good to have Indy in my head, and there are many other projects going on which keep my head busy, but my life is Formula 1 and my dreams are in Formula 1. We need to find a way to improve. It hurts.”
– Fernando Alonso
The risk of staying with McLaren-Honda for another season is unthinkable for Fernando Alonso. He should join Renault for 2018 if that is an option. They’ve improved this season and are going in the right direction. If Hulkenberg’s recent performances are anything to go by, Alonso could probably challenge Force India and Williams in the RS17 and at least have a sniff of the podium.
It’s different for Stoffel Vandoorne. If he performs to an acceptable level, he has a potentially long career ahead of him. Time is on his side, he can afford to be patient with Honda, who haven’t stepped back as much as they have completely fallen out of depth this season. It’s beyond embarrassing, and you have to feel for the people who work at McLaren and have bigger intentions than just taking part, racing anonymously, barely ahead of a Sauber running a 2016 power unit.
Glossing over it, shrugging it off again doesn’t really cut it. How can one of the front-running teams of the recent era fall from greatness so clinically? It’s probably time to accept that Honda have outrightly failed in the McLaren-Honda project.
Eric Boullier has been openly frustrated for some time, the harshness of his comments, coupled with that of the drivers, shows a clear dissatisfaction with Honda. On Alonso and the performance this weekend, Boullier said,
“I share his frustration – it’s not acceptable to start the second consecutive grand prix with only one car, and we need to address this shortcoming immediately. He is naturally disappointed, but things will get better.
You cannot hide behind a result like this: finishing 14th is not why McLaren-Honda goes racing, and, believe me, we are working hard to make sure this level of performance doesn’t last for long.”
– Eric Boullier
Gradual improvements over the past few seasons mean nothing when the culmination this year is falling apart to the degree it is. Nobody wants to see Honda fail in Formula One. A competitive McLaren team is an asset to the Championship, but it just doesn’t look like this will happen all season, and the track record suggests that if McLaren stick it out for another year, any assurances that Honda give will mean nothing.
Fernando Alonso should get out at the end of this season, nobody could possibly blame him. Honda have taken on the challenge at Sauber, and this might be a better platform for the Japanese manufacturer to develop at a less ambitious, more conservative rate.
The McLaren-Honda project initially sparked nostalgia, orange and white liveries, the glory of Senna, a team going back to its roots to rekindle a partnership that brought success. The romanticised, glossy filter can be put aside now. This is a clinical, results driven industry and big questions will be asked of Honda after the terrible showing in Sochi.