Mid-season review: McLaren-Honda's woes

Mid-season review: McLaren-Honda's woes

17 August 2017 – GPUpdate.net continues its mid-season review series with McLaren-Honda, which has lacked reliability and performance, restricting prospects for driver pairing Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.

McLaren: 4/10
Championship: 9th
WCC points: 11
Best race: 6th (1 x ALO)
Best qualifying: 7th (1 x ALO)
Fastest laps: 1
Qualifying duel: ALO 9 – 1 VAN, BUT 1 – 0 VAN


McLaren began the season targeting fourth, a reasonable aim after its 2016 progress, but Honda's revised power unit desperately lacked reliability and performance during testing, with on-track results varying wildly – and negatively – compared to what the dyno was reading. As a result, McLaren-Honda's campaign was already written off, the relationship began to fracture, with Fernando Alonso's patience understandably snapping as he bluntly stated there was "no reliability" and "no power" and that Honda was 30km/h down on its rivals. Honda's decision to take a new route, aided by the removal of the token system, means 2015/16 was almost wasted, but in the long-run it should prove to be a wise decision, with greater potential; recent gains have lifted the partnership back into the midfield. The frustration on McLaren's side is obvious, with the work undertaken on its chassis again masked by power limitations, which has created an abundance of negative PR and uncertainty over the future. But with structural changes – the departure of Ron Dennis the biggest – a competent chassis team and an improving engine, there is hope for the future. However, McLaren has a big choice to make soon, and it could determine whether the current period is seen as a slump or the start of a Williams-esque regression into relying on past glory.

Fernando Alonso: 8/10
Championship: 15th
WDC points: 10
Best R result: 6th (1x)
Best Q result: 7th (1x)


It remains a continuing tragedy that Fernando Alonso is unable to demonstrate his talents in top-tier machinery, but counterintuitively, the world can still marvel at his exploits in a limited package. Alonso has regularly dragged the maximum out of the MCL32, and is increasingly adopting black humour to cope with the situation. Alonso's lap in Spain to take seventh on the grid was other-worldly, his move on Carlos Sainz Jr. in Hungary sensational, while his cheeky Q1 effort at a drying Britain provided some light relief. However, barring an improbable surge in performance, Alonso's 2017 season is likely to be remembered for his thrilling IndyCar run, in which he stepped into the cockpit of the McLaren-Andretti-run machine and was on the pace straight away. Alonso's performance across the Month of May was sublime, and he stunned the motorsport world by competing for victory… until an engine failure. Alonso's Indianapolis foray enabled a slightly ambivalent Jenson Button to return for Monaco, and he gradually got on the pace to make Q3, though penalties consigned him to the back, where he clattered into Pascal Wehrlein. 

Stoffel Vandoorne: 6/10
Championship: 18th
WDC points: 1
Best R result: 10th (1x)
Best Q result: 9th (1x)


Stoffel Vandoorne entered 2017 touted as Formula 1's next big thing but McLaren-Honda's disastrous campaign, and his own troubles, have blunted his reputation. Vandoorne started his year slowly as he struggled to adapt to unreliable and inconsistent machinery – making getting into a rhythm challenging – after running in spec cars for several seasons. Matters reached a nadir in Spain as he was desperately off Alonso's pace, before clumsily running into Felipe Massa in the race, a situation which required crunch talks with McLaren. Vandoorne carried greater confidence thereafter, though progress made behind-the-scenes was masked amid penalties, a couple of unnecessary incidents and McLaren-Honda's ongoing woes. Vandoorne has worked harder to assert himself at the team, identifying the set-ups which suit his style and finding his own direction, as he gathers greater experience with each passing weekend. His best run came in Britain, making Q3 and almost scoring a point at a circuit not conducive to McLaren's package. This has been a character-building season for Vandoorne, but his personal progress – combined with McLaren-Honda's gains – means the worst should be over.

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