While upbeat about 2016, McLaren-Honda’s champion drivers are cautious about predicting a rapid return to victory for the beleaguered team.
Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso finished a woeful 16th and 17th respectively last year as the new works collaboration with Honda kicked off.
Still, despite some ups and downs, the drivers managed to head into the winter break still delivering positive messages about the team and the future.
“We have a lot of strengths,” said Button, “and I think everyone knows McLaren and what they’ve achieved. It is still the same team.”
The Briton said it was no surprise that amid F1’s development restrictions and the ultra-complex ‘power unit’ formula, the first season for McLaren-Honda was tough.
But he said McLaren was also on a steep learning curve with its so-called ‘size zero’-philosophy chassis.
“We’ve learned so much this year with the power unit, with the idea of the aerodynamics of the car, because it’s very different to a normal McLaren, so there is a lot of learning to take from this season,” said Button.
“This winter,” he continued, “is a very important one for us, to make those big changes and come out a lot stronger next year because we don’t want to be where we are, we want to be fighting near the front.
“Whether we can win races or not, that’s another question but I think we can at last fight at the front next year.”
Button insisted that despite the woeful results of 2015, everyone at McLaren-Honda retains “confident” in both McLaren and Honda to turn it around.
“There’s a good atmosphere,” he said, “which a lot of people are surprised about. But there really is.”
However, some frustration and resignation was evident in the drivers towards the end of 2015, like their cheeky podium cameo and Spaniard Alonso’s trackside picnic-chair moment that went viral on social media.
But even Alonso says he is upbeat.
“I enjoy working with McLaren,” he said, “with Honda, with all the Japanese discipline and Japanese culture in the team. I still remain very positive.
“I’m very, very happy and looking forward to next year (2016) being a little bit easier than this one that has been difficult in terms of results.”
But, like Button and despite his own predictions of a 2.5 second per lap performance leap for 2016, Alonso is also not counting on certain victory this year.
“At the moment there’s a question mark,” he admitted, “where McLaren-Honda can be” in 2016.
“There are a lot of expectations in the team. I think we were united in some difficult moments and always moving forward, so I think for 2016 the main goal for the team is to come back to where we belong and being competitive, fighting for the top positions,” said Alonso.
“I don’t know if that means fighting for the championship, I don’t know if that means fighting for victories or just being on the podium sometimes, that’s always difficult to know in a very complex sport like formula one.
“There are definitely some big challenges ahead in this winter and I see all the things that the team has done in the last couple of months and these seem very logical, very positive and I’m confident that it’s going to be a completely different season next year,” he added.