Fernando Alonso has denied he’s considering leaving McLaren before the end of the season in the face of the team’s persistent lack of competitiveness.
Late last year McLaren-Honda was tipped to be a dark horse amongst the top teams in 2017, but a disastrous preseason testing campaign riddled with engine failures and comprising the least mileage of any team became a precursor to what could be the least competitive year in the partnership’s three-season history.
McLaren’s pace in Melbourne was broadly in line with expectation, with Fernando Alonso retiring from the race and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing two laps down, with both complaining of a lack of power and having to undertake aggressive fuel saving measures throughout the race.
Alonso, however, offered the team the briefest glimmer of hope by clinging to tenth place until his exit from the race — but afterwards the typically outspoken Spaniard didn’t hold back, calling the race the best of his career despite the woeful equipment at his disposal.
“It was difficult in the way that you cannot do a mistake for the whole race because any mistake in one corner … they will overtake you with the speed difference,” he elaborated.
Alonso has struggled with McLaren-Honda since joining the project in 2014, but the disappointment of a third consecutive season racing away from the front of the grid could be enough to convince the Spaniard to walk away from the team before the expiry of his contract at the end of the year, according to former F1 driver Mark Webber.
“It’s not like [teammate] Stoffel [Vandoorne] — maybe points for him is quite nice,” Webber told Belgium’s Sporza. “Fernando’s not interested in points; he wants to be fighting for podiums.
“Mentally he’s a long, long way away from where he wants to be.
“Maybe Fernando’s not there the whole year.”
Alonso, however, scotched the story.
“It is definitely not true,” he said. “I prefer to be here than to be in the supermarket in my home town.
“I heard, and it is normal from the outside — drivers speak — and I also read comments from many people.
“In Spain also, even if one ex-driver or motorbike rider has an interview, there’s always one question about Alonso and how difficult the situation is.
“Everyone is [supposedly] quite close to me and it’s like I have depression, but it’s not like that — I’m in Formula One, I’m delivering at my best, I’m more prepared than ever, I’m performing I think at my best.
“The team’s not very competitive now — okay, it’s true; there’s nothing we can do from one day to another — so it’s hard work, but at the same time I think the team is expecting an extra job from me now, an extra result from me, as we did in Australia.”
Though the Australian Grand Prix was a predictably difficult one for McLaren, the team is expected to fare even worse at the Chinese Grand Prix.
The Shanghai International Circuit comprises the longest straight on the F1 calendar, and rumours in the week leading up to the race suggested the Honda power unit might find itself out of electrical energy two-thirds of the way down that particular 1.2 kilometre stretch of track.
Alonso, however, believed the engine’s general lack of performance would be more troublesome.
“It’s difficult to predict. Let’s wait and see. I don’t think we’re lacking deployment compared to the opposition, it’s just that we have less power, so our time on the straights is much longer than the rest.
“Definitely we need to be ready for a difficult race, for a tough race.”