For F1’s top teams, 2015 is a case of putting the troublesome first year of the new turbo V6 era in the past and setting sights on closing the big gap to Mercedes.
It is bad news for McLaren, the British grandee who struggled last year and relished the prospect of kicking off a new works collaboration with Honda in 2015.
That has now begun, but the fledgling McLaren-Honda project is struggling with its innovative MP4-30 car as returning Japanese engineers discover the full complexity of the sport’s new ‘power unit’ era.
Team boss Eric Boullier admitted in Barcelona on Friday that, with exactly half of the 12 days of winter testing now over, “We are 50 per cent behind”.
Friday, however, was a better day, as star driver Fernando Alonso managed almost 60 laps and was only 1.4 seconds off the ultimate test pace.
“For the first time,” he told reporters, “we got a glimpse of the potential of the car and it feels good.”
It was a much-needed boost for McLaren, who had expected to struggle on Friday after Honda discovered a faulty part as the second winter test began.
“After Jenson (Button’s) failure,” Alonso admitted, “I was a little pessimistic. But today we have shown that we are on the right track.”
At the same time, Alonso is also being realistic about McLaren’s situation.
“Honestly, I was hoping we would make this step, as there are now only six (test) days until Melbourne and we are behind.
“Our opponents have a year and 19 races more experience than us.
“We are about as prepared for Melbourne as Red Bull was last year. If we had one wish,” Alonso is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport, “we would move the first race to June!
“But under the circumstances, (the laptime) 1:25.9 is very good. At the grand prix last year, the fastest McLaren lap was 1:27.3, so I can say that today was a good day for us,” he added.
There is also bad news. Alonso pointed out that, of the 9 teams testing on Friday, none did fewer laps than McLaren. “We need to raise our game and learn as fast as we can,” he said.
Boss Boullier, having admitted that McLaren has lost half of its testing programme to delays already, agrees that Australia is approaching too fast.
“If we had 12 days to be ready and we missed half of the 12 days, we will not be 100 per cent ready,” the Frenchman confessed.
“But what we can say is that the car behaves quite differently than last year’s, and the drivers are happy, especially Jenson, who knows the old car well.
“Fernando is also not dissatisfied, which is a good sign,” Boullier added. (GMM)