2017 review: McLaren-Honda ends in divorce

2017 review: McLaren-Honda ends in divorce

12 December 2017 – GPUpdate.net continues its team-by-team review with McLaren, which finally lost patience with Honda, as the marque's revised power unit concept led to a near-repeat of its maligned 2015 campaign.

McLaren: 5/10
Championship: 9th
WCC points: 30
Best race: 6th (1 x ALO)
Best qualifying: 7th (2 x ALO, 1 x VAN)
Fastest laps: 1
Qualifying duel: ALO 15 - 4 VAN, BUT 1 - 0 VAN


McLaren entered 2017 believing a top-four return was realistic but such aspirations were soon dashed. Honda conceded its initial power unit design had limited rewards and switched to a Mercedes-style concept, but problems not picked up on the dyno led to more setbacks, a lack of running, and a lack of pace. "Ask Honda" became McLaren's early catchphrase. Dreadful reliability was such that engine penalties soon built up, compromising prospects once the situation had improved to a respectable level. McLaren, frustrated by Honda's false promises and missed deadlines, finally lost patience, though its alliance with Renault has all the hallmarks of a marriage of convenience. McLaren repeatedly hailed its chassis and the development it undertook, though the intertwined nature of chassis/engine makes a complete analysis impossible; next year, with Renault, will be the acid test. However, that the best performances came in Hungary and Singapore cannot be ignored – the chassis, still lacking in 2016, was more consistent, and regularly gave its drivers a strong feeling. Pit-stops and strategy will need to be sharper than in 2017, but that will come with time; at least the Honda nightmare is over.

Fernando Alonso: 8/10
Championship: 15th
WDC points: 17
Best R result: 6th (1x)
Best Q result: 7th (2x)


It was clear from Fernando Alonso's body language during testing that 2017 was going to be dispiriting. And so it proved. Alonso scored 17 points and saw the chequered flag just eight times. His Indianapolis 500 attempt captivated the motorsport world for much of May, but even that display of bravado was truncated by a Honda engine failure, and that he was even happy in the first place to bin off racing a Formula 1 car in Monaco said it all. Alonso continued to plug away in Formula 1, angrily rubbishing suggestions of parking a healthy car in Belgium, and was in the thick of the fight where possible. His qualifying performance on home soil in Spain was spellbinding, and his pass on Carlos Sainz Jr. in Hungary brilliantly executed. As with every driver, there was the occasional off day, but these were few and far between. Formula 1 will be a healthier place for the return of Alonso to the sharp end of the grid, and it is long overdue.

High point: Race-leading spells at the Indianapolis 500
Low point: Turn 1 clash in Singapore scuppered podium chance


Stoffel Vandoorne: 7/10
Championship: 16th
WDC points: 13
Best R result: 7th (2x)
Best Q result: 7th (1x)


Dealing with an unreliable, inconsistent power unit, adapting to a new approach, piloting a chassis constantly being developed, and going up against Alonso – Formula 1 was certainly a baptism of fire for Vandoorne. Early results were lacklustre, prompting a deep-rooted analysis in the wake of a bizarrely off-colour performance in Spain, after which his fortunes picked up, as he gradually got to grips with the processes of Formula 1. Vandoorne frequently remained behind Alonso, but was more competitive through the second half of the campaign, peaking with a fine weekend-long display in Malaysia. However, his one-lap pace too often left him with a mountain to climb on Sundays, and some opportunities to capture stronger results (Monaco, Hungary) were missed. That will need to be addressed in 2018, for that one-lap gap cannot be repeated if McLaren is in a more competitive place. Nonetheless, 2017's setbacks will stand him in good stead next season.

High point: Strong display through Malaysia weekend
Low point: Clumsy clash to end horrible Spain weekend


Jenson Button: N/A
Championship: NC
WDC points: 0
Best R result: 9th (1x)
Best Q result: DNF (1x)


He came, he saw, he tipped Pascal Wehrlein into the wall, and he departed. In a nutshell, that was Button's 2017 Formula 1 season. Having tired of the rigorous schedule, Button stepped back from a race seat, which was ostensibly the signal for retirement, though made a one-off appearance in Monaco in place of Indianapolis-bound Alonso. Button's toned-down enthusiasm spoke volumes, but he performed well in the circumstances, making Q3 – and in turn meant he was, on average, the seventh-best qualifier in 2017! However, as per the McLaren-Honda script, he was relegated to the back due to an engine penalty, and a frustrated lunge at Wehrlein left the Sauber driver in the wall – or rather, perched against it. Considering the scrap was over 18th – and terminally damaged Button's car – it was an ignominious end to his career (and he still has the grid penalty hanging over him!) With Lando Norris now reserve, Button's Formula 1 spell is well and truly 'chapter closed'.

High point: Making Q3 upon return in Monaco
Low point: Much of the race


Statistics
Average qualifying gap: 0.312s (in Alonso's favour)*
Biggest qualifying gap: 0.986s to Alonso in Australia**
Smallest qualifying gap: 0.029s to Alonso in Japan
Average qualifying result: Button 9, Alonso 11.47, Vandoorne 13.45

*Several sessions not included due to power unit issues and/or impending penalties
**Vandoorne suffered from fuel pressure problem in Q1. Where comparable, largest gap was 0.717s to Alonso in Russia


Retirements:
Alonso: 7*
Vandoorne: 5*
Button: 1

*Both drivers had an additional failure to start due to PU problem


Race head-to-head: Alonso 5 - 2 Vandoorne


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