The McLaren Honda Formula One Team had something to smile about following qualifying for the season opening Australian Grand Prix as Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will start Sunday’s race from 12th and 13th respectively.
Flash back 12 months ago, Fernando Alonso didn’t start the race following his crash in Barcelona during testing while Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen started the race from 17th and 18th place.
Coming back to this season the duo did a great job in qualifying, and Fernando Alonso was absolutely delighted with the performance of the car saying after the session:
The car was fantastic today. “I felt very comfortable and very happy with the performance of the car all weekend. We didn’t expect to be too fast here because our car is still limited in performance in certain areas. But we were more competitive than we anticipated, have some new things coming for in the next few races, and we’re looking to be stronger in the future.
“Perhaps we need to give the new qualifying system a bit more time. However, I believe it favours the strongest teams and is a bit unfair towards the less competitive teams.
“Because we’d used two sets of Supersofts in Q1 – where I finished third – we only had one chance to run in Q2. On my first run I felt competitive, I was 10th, running under the same conditions and on the same rubber as everyone else; I was only 1.2s off the Mercedes, which was a nice surprise, but then I had to sit in the garage and watch how quali developed, which was a bit sad.
“Of course, the top teams don’t need to use both sets of Supersoft tyres in Q1, so the onus is on us to get back to being a top team again, and only use up one set of Options in Q1. But maybe we should do what Moto GP did in qualifying last year – where the less competitive teams could use softer tyres in qualifying. In Formula 1, we’ve chosen to do the opposite.
“Tomorrow will be interesting – hopefully we can get both cars into the points.
Jenson Button was pleased with his performance in qualifying, the 2009 world champion commented by saying:
Twelfth and 13th on the grid is slightly better than we expected before we came here.
“The car didn’t feel too bad, although I think people struggled with the drop in temperature between FP3 and qualifying. I enjoyed driving the car, although, at the end of Q2, we didn’t have any Supersoft tyres left, and weren’t quite quick enough.
“The only problem we encountered with the new qualifying regulations was in the pit-lane: the four cars behind us were being wheeled backwards into the garage at the same time as we were trying to stop in the box, change tyres and run again. It’s quite a narrow pit-lane here, so it turned into a bit of a mess.
“Winter testing was positive in terms of mileage, but less so in terms of pace, so we’re all positively surprised with how close we were to Williams and Force India. I actually believe we have a better race car than a qualifying car – which is a turnaround from last year – and our deployment is almost as good as anybody else’s, which will benefit us more in the races.
“Today isn’t too bad a starting point – much better than where we were this time last year.
McLaren Honda Racing Director Eric Boullier was scathing of the new qualifying but was happy his drivers were happy with the car saying:
Today’s qualifying hour was exciting for the first few minutes of Q1, but it then petered out very disappointingly.
“Like many of my opposite-numbers within other teams, on behalf of our sport, I have to say I’m saddened that the new qualifying format produced such a lacklustre spectacle.
“As regards our own form, well, 12th and 13th isn’t much to write home about, but, having qualified in the middle of Q2, we have freedom of choice re tyres for tomorrow, so we’ll now move on from a day that did our sport no favours and crunch data in an effort to optimise our race strategy.
“Encouragingly, both our drivers reported that our car felt very nice, and that its balance allowed them to push it in the way that all racing drivers hope for of a good racing car. So MP4-31 is clearly well conceived, and its development will continue apace.
“In the meantime, as I say, let’s see what tomorrow brings.
Honda R&D Co Ltd Head of F1 Project and Executive Chief Engineer Yusuke Hasegawa commented by saying:
Today’s performance shows great progress from our results in the Barcelona test, and we had a good, solid run from this afternoon’s FP3 through to qualifying. The new qualifying format and the tyre allocation made it tricky for us to strategise, and, although we may have had the potential to move on to Q3, we finished the session in P12 and P13.
“Both drivers are satisfied with the car, which is a positive for the team, and hopefully we can be in a position to score some points at the end of the race.