The reassembly of one of the sports most successful partnerships was meant to be the springboard that a struggling McLaren outfit needed to return to pre-eminence. While the first races on Honda’s return to the sport were always set to be filled with trials and tribulations, few could have predicted the extent of their troubles at the mid-way point of their first season in the V6 Hybrid era.
Just 17 points on the board, from ten races plagued by unreliability, the first half of the season has certainly been a character building experience.
The big book of superlatives has certainly been put to good use today, as Lewis Hamilton took an emphatic pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix. At arguably his best circuit of the year, Hamilton was imperious, following on from three untroubled practice sessions and managed to post a masterful flying lap to end his charge in Q3 and leave teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg trailing in his wake, to the tune of a rather surprising six tenths. Rosberg’s qualifying was hampered by balance issues, which seriously hampered him in the technical sector two.
It may be the usual front row, but in unusual circumstances, with Rosberg left scratching his head after another tricky Saturday afternoon.
Honda are certainly not unfamiliar with the pressure-cooker that is the Formula 1 paddock. Their struggles to adapt to life in the post-2014 formula has seen both them, and their partners at McLaren, face a barrage of difficult questions. This barrage has become more potent of late, as the team continue to languish towards the tail-end of the grid. While Honda have the resources and expertise required to win races and championships, such a turn-around will not simply be the work of a moment and McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier, has suggested that Honda should seek outside assistance. However, with such a proposition being a departure from typical practices at Honda, Boullier’s suggestions could be shelved.
Earlier this week, Kevin Magnussen sparked speculation regarding both his and the similarly McLaren-backed Stoffel Vandoorne’s future prospects, with the Dane admitting; “Stoffel is doing a good job – he deserves to be in F1. There’s something wrong if he doesn’t.” With Vandoorne carving a pre-eminent figure in GP2, leading the championship by a commanding 44 points, McLaren could find themselves making tough decisions this winter as they have too many drivers for too few spaces in the team.
“Will Vandoorne have an F1 drive for 2016,” was the question that I posed to my Twitter followers on Friday. As with all good debate questions, the complexity of the argument was evident in the responses.
McLaren and Honda need no introduction. Perfect partners since the first lap in 1988, the association produced one of the greatest machines the sport has ever seen in the MP4/4. Brought to life by Steve Nichols and Gordon Murray, the car took all but one race victory in the hands of Alain Prost and eventual champion Ayrton Senna. The first McLaren Honda certainly set the bar high. However, with one of the most technically advanced powerunits ever constructed providing the MP4-30’s roar, the partnership has reconvened and so far missed the sparkle in performance to match that of the paintwork.
Unfortunately, events of the 2015 season thus far have been largely negative. Following an admittedly underwhelming curtain raiser in Australia, the sport is in need of an exciting weekend to bring the campaign to life. Fortunately, Malaysia has the capacity to deliver, with the Sepang International Circuit playing host to this weekend’s race which should be littered with storylines. Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas look set to make a return, the circus heads to a more representative track and Nico Rosberg looks to bounce back from his disappointment down-under. Certainly plenty to sink our teeth into.
Fernando Alonso’s 2015 looks set to get back on course next weekend, as the Spaniard completed a day in the simulator at Woking yesterday. On account of how poor McLaren’s overall weekend in Australia was, they most certainly need their star signing to be fully fit and ready to haul their under-performing car around the Sepang International Circuit.