Fernando Alonso has described McLaren’s performance at the Japanese Grand Prix as a “step backwards” after a tough qualifying session for the Woking squad.
The Spaniard’s FP3 pace – where he posted the eleventh-fastest time – proved to be a false dawn and he only narrowly made it into Q2 en route to qualifying fifteenth at the Suzuka circuit.
Teammate Jenson Button – who has endured a torrid weekend – fared worse and will start two places behind his two-time championship-winning teammate in 17th position after being eliminated in the opening phase of qualifying.
Just a week after the team scored its second double-points finish of the season at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Alonso was perplexed by the team’s dip in performance.
“Not the right performance, let’s say,” Alonso he reflected after qualifying.
“All we weekend we’ve been struggling, trying to find [a suitable] balance. It’s a difficult position to try to start the race from. It seems like a step backwards, so we need to find some speed.”
The result marked a frustrating blip for the squad given its recent form, coming a year on from an embarrassing showing at engine partner Honda’s home race when Alonso and Button were being blown away on the straights, prompting the veteran to liken the Japanese company’s power unit to a “GP2 engine”.
Despite the poor showing in the wake of recent upgrades to the Honda power unit, Alonso refused to pin the blame on the powerplant and instead hinted that the issue is more chassis-related and circuit-specific.
“Five days ago we were performing very well in Malaysia. It’s just that circuit to circuit it seems to change,” he added. “[Suzuka] is probably not on our side, so we need to understand why.”
In what is certainly the final Japanese Grand Prix of his Formula 1 career, Button has endured a wretched run and spent much of the weekend – like Alonso – chasing a workable set-up.
“On Friday I had a different balance and set-up, which wasn’t good, so I went to [Alonso’s] set-up, but I had an engine issue all morning [in FP3] and was massively down on power,” he fumed.
“To be that close to [Alonso] after the weekend we’ve had isn’t horrific – it’s just where the car is.
“Every corner, the mid-speed corners, Turn 7… it’s very negative for us. It was never going to be the easiest [circuit], but you hope it is going to be, as it’s Honda’s Grand Prix.”
Image via McLaren Honda