McLaren-Honda has attempted to push memories of its disastrous preseason out of mind with a low-key start to the Australian Grand Prix weekend.
The historic team barely managed to string more than 11 laps without stopping during the Barcelona tests, but in Melbourne on Friday drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne completed an admirable 84 laps, including a confident 33-lap session from Vandoorne in the evening.
Best of all, Honda suffered no reliability issues — though the best Alonso could do with the car was lap 2.3 seconds off Lewis Hamilton’s blistering Mercedes-powered pace, classifying him twelfth.
“Yeah, today was all right,” said Zak Brown, McLaren’s new executive director. “Reliability was good. Speed was not where we want to be, but better [than testing] — but I think some other had some issues.
“I don’t know if today is representative of where we’ll be … I hope so, because P12 would be I think a little better than anticipated.
“But it was only free practice and day one — you don’t know who’s turned up what, who was on what fuel load. I would say today was a good day.”
“Based on what we know and how little time there’s been from testing to today, I think we’ve made some good progress sin the last couple of weeks.”
One of the more troubling aspects of McLaren-Honda’s preseason was the woefully unreliable power unit, which during the second week at Barcelona suffered from a vibration problem so severe that it shook parts of the car into failure.
Grinding sounds continue to emanate from the MCL32 in gear changes, but Brown said the team’s engine partner is slowly rectifying the problem.
“[The power unit has] been improved,” he said. “I’m not sure [about cured], because at the end of the day we need to get more running in.
“It’s, I think, early to say things have been solved, because we haven’t done a grand prix distance, but certainly today it was good that we got some good laps in — more laps than we had done in any one day.”
Promising for Brown is what he said were positive responses from his drivers to the Melbourne-spec McLaren.
“The drivers like the car,” he said. “Fernando and Stoffel have both said the car feels very good and looks good, so now we need to get further up the grid.
“I think it is just race by race [improvements]. We’ll get a little bit more power, a little bit more speed — not compromise reliability. I don’t think there’ll be a step change at any one grand prix, it’ll just be a gradual progression.”
Alonso, however, remained unmoved by his team’s incremental progress.
“I really don’t care,” he said. “I don’t care about the order, I don’t care who is in the middle pack. We want to be world champions, we want to be on podiums, we want to win races, and we are quite far behind.“