Former Grand Prix winner Mark Webber believes that Fernando Alonso might pull the pin on his 2017 campaign with McLaren-Honda mid-season, such are the Spaniard’s frustrations with the team’s continued lack of competitiveness.
Now in the third year of their reunification, McLaren and Honda have struggled through yet another poor pre-season. Despite major upgrades to its power unit, the Honda motor has lacked reliability and performance.
The two-time World Champion defied the expectations of pundits with a surprise thirteenth-fastest at last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, but retired late in the race with floor damage after running on the fringes of the top-ten.
Clearly frustrated with the MCL32’s lack of performance, Alonso declared that the team’s better-than-expected showing was not a sign of things to come and that the team can expect to be the slowest on track “in normal conditions”.
Alonso returned to McLaren in line with its reunification with Honda and is now in the final year of a three-year contract with the team.
Webber, a close personal friend of the Spaniard, has since speculated that he could leave the team before the year is out unless the situation dramatically improves.
“Maybe Fernando is not there the whole year? Maybe Stoffel will have a different team-mate at some point,” Webber speculated to Belgian broadcaster Sporza.
“Fernando might not do the whole year, you never know. He’s frustrated like hell. He doesn’t even want to finish even seventh or sixth.
“It’s not like Stoffel, where maybe points for him is quite nice. Fernando is not interested in points, he wants to fight for the podium.
“Fernando, mentally, is a long way away from where he wants to be.”
Despite being unable to run more than a dozen laps at a time in pre-season testing, the MCL32 proved rather more reliable in Melbourne. Alonso retired late in the race, but teammate Stoffel Vandoorne saw the chequered flag – albeit in last place and two laps adrift of race-winner Sebastian Vettel.
Webber believes that Vandoorne, who dominated the GP2 Series Championship in 2015, will prove more resilient in the current situation compared to Alonso.
“[Stoffel] can still do the learning in the background, so it’s not a bad scenario for him to learn the first season in Formula 1 because the radar is not really on him,” Webber added.
“The radar is on the team, the politics and the problems with Honda.
“I like Stoffel, he’s a good guy, I think he has a great chance to have a brilliant future, and we need these talented guys in Formula 1.
“He has such good pedigree in the junior categories, I think there’s still good currency for him. You can’t have two years like this, but he’ll be OK.”
Image via McLaren-Honda