McLaren Honda head into this weekend’s 2016 Formula One season opening Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne’s Albert Park street circuit in a far better place in terms of their preparation for the new season compared to this time last year.
The Woking based outfit are now into their second year with engine partner Honda and had a far more productive winter testing period this year.
The team head to Australia with a far more positive outlook compared to last year. The 2015 season was the worst in terms of results for the outfit as they ended the year in ninth place in the championship on 27 points just ahead of the Manor Racing team.
For 2016 the team have retained Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso for a second year. It is Button’s seventh campaign with McLaren having joined the outfit as world champion in 2010. Speaking ahead of the start of his 16th season in F1 Button commented by saying:
I’m so excited to go racing again! Albert Park is always a great season-opener – I love Melbourne as a city, and the track is pretty good, too. The warm weather is a welcome change and the higher track temperatures than we’ve been used to in testing always pose a bit of a challenge.
“In Australia it’s always a new slate each day in terms of set-up, as the track starts off very green on the Friday and wears in more and more as the weekend goes on. We are planning to bring some updates to this race, so we’ll be working on configuring those into our set-up right from FP1. Albert Park is a tricky place to start the season at – it’s an unforgiving, technical, bumpy street circuit, so it really gets you going after a few months off from racing, but that’s why we love driving there.
The Australian Grand Prix is always a fascinating unknown because you’re never sure where you are in relation to your competitors. Although we’ve finished pre-season testing, we’ve not had much time on track before the season starts, so this is the first chance for us to compare ourselves on similar set-ups. We’ve been concentrating heavily on our own development and processes, so I’m looking forward to seeing where we are on a level playing field.
“We’re working hard behind the scenes to develop the car and bring new updates at every possible opportunity. Melbourne will certainly be a challenge, but our package definitely feels like a step forward from last year. There are so many more variables this year – new qualifying format, new tyre regulations, and Australia usually produces unpredictable races, so anything could happen!
Button’s team mate Fernando Alonso commented on the start of the season by saying:
It’s been a very long winter – the longest I can remember without Formula 1 – so I’m really looking forward to getting back in the car. This track is always exciting to drive, partly because of its street circuit nature – tight run-off areas, a bumpy surface and low grip – but also because everyone is impatient to go racing again.
“The important thing is to get a good start – usually everyone is eager and it’s quiet common for there to be some drama off the line in the first race. This year, it’ll be interesting to see how everyone’s tyre choices play out, and the strategy each team picks, but it’s only on Sunday afternoon that we’ll get to see where we really are. On Friday and Saturday, we’ll be working hard to predict the track’s characteristics on race day, and focusing on setting up the car in its final specification. It’ll also be interesting to see how the improvement in the power unit deployment pans out on this tricky circuit, too.
One thing is for sure, the fans are always very loud and it’s always a great feeling in the first race of the season. Apart from that, we can’t make any predictions of results or make comparisons as we don’t yet know much about the form book from winter testing. The same teams look to be strong this year, but everyone is holding their cards very close to their chest, so it will be interesting to see how the weekend unfolds.
“Usually the track conditions change quite dramatically from the start of FP1 on Friday to the end of the grand prix, so it’s a race in itself for the drivers and engineers to keep on top of it and make sure they have the right set-up ahead of each session, or risk losing out. The new qualifying format will surely make things a bit unpredictable for the teams and the fans, as every time a new regulation comes in each season it always take a little bit of time to get used to it. I’m looking forward to landing in Australia, getting back in the car, putting my visor down and getting back on track, then the season will really begin. I’m so ready!
McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier begins his third season with the team and speaking about the start of the new season the Frenchman stated:
It’s been a very long winter, and I know that I can speak on behalf of the whole McLaren-Honda team when I say that we can’t wait to go racing again! There’s been an incredible amount of hard work done over the winter, and we’re all itching to get back on the grid to see where we are for this, our second year of the McLaren-Honda partnership.
“We are certainly a step ahead of where we were this time last year in terms of preparation – we have much more mileage under our belts and we’ve performed most of the necessary system checks that we were still working on during race weekends in 2015. That said, we didn’t manage to complete our final configuration and set-up work for the first race, so we go to Melbourne with a number of unknowns. It won’t be an easy start to the weekend in that sense, since we’ll need to concentrate on setting the car up for each session and readying the final specification of our package as soon as we get to Albert Park. Since the final pre-season test, there’s been a huge effort back in Woking to bring new parts to Australia and it’ll be good to finally get to the track on Friday and see how we fare.
“Until the other teams fully show their hand in the same conditions, we won’t have any idea where we stack up in comparison, but our priority is to focus on extracting the most out of our own performance, while still maintaining reliability. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but as usual we’ll work hard, in the hope of faring better in Australia than we did last year. We are always greeted by a warm welcome, and it’ll be fantastic to hear the cheers from the knowledgeable Aussie fans in Albert Park. We’re all counting down to the green light on Friday so we can get out on track and start the season proper.
Yusuke Hasegawa Honda R&D Co Ltd Head of F1 Project and Executive Chief Engineer commented on the start of the new season by saying:
As a season-opener, the street circuit of Albert Park is a strenuous track for the drivers, car and the power unit, so it will no doubt be a difficult race. The circuit is flat, narrow, slippery and fast, which makes the whole weekend unpredictable.
“That said, we are eager to see what the package is capable of out on track. During the short winter months, we worked hard to address the issues encountered in 2015, and during the two weeks of testing in Barcelona, we were able to confirm the fundamental power unit set-up for 2016. The logical next step is to test and show our progress on track, which will begin to shape the course of our development for this year.
“Last year, the team was given a warm welcome by the enthusiastic fans, as well as fantastic support from our Honda Australia peers. We hope we can show our appreciation through our efforts on the track during the grand prix weekend.