McLaren came into 2018 no doubt optimistic after a nightmare three-year partnership with Honda as their power unit supplier. Despite their optimism, bad luck still riddled the British team with minor parts failures creating major problems.
Fernando Alonso – 1:22.354 (51 laps)
A challenging start to the day with such a strong performance from the first green light of the year. Fernando managed solid lap times before a wheel nut issue sent the Spaniard into a spin on the final corner into the gravel.
Remarkably, Fernando found the broken nut and took it back with him to the garage for the team to examine. While the damage was small, repair times came at a toll due to spare parts being at a premium during pre-season testing.
Plenty of set-up changes and garage time was planned for the afternoon session. However, less favourable conditions became present with cold track temperatures and a wet surface on an already resurfaced track that McLaren and the rest of the pit lane held limited data on.
“We didn’t plan to run much this morning in our scheduled test programme,” said Fernando after the conclusion of Day 1. “We had planned fundamental changes on the car over lunch, so the lack of morning running hasn’t been a big handicap today.
“For me, I feel that today has been a very good start,” he added. “The car felt good both here and in Navarra (where an allocated filming day took place prior to the first test), and there’s definitely strong potential.
“On the performance side, it’s very early days to make an assessment, but everything seems to be in line with our expectations from the wind tunnel and the data that we had before coming to the test. At the moment, I think everyone is quite optimistic.”
Meanwhile, Eric Boullier, Racing Director of McLaren outlined that predictions can’t be made from their maiden day with Renault.
“While we have high expectations for our new partnership with Renault, we will not make any predictions now for the rest of the season. This is the first day, it’s still early days and we need to assess our car,” he added.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t take full advantage of the afternoon session because of the weather, and the forecast is not looking good for the rest of the week. Dry running is more useful for testing of course, but even in the wet there are still a lot of systems to check on the car, so still a lot of work to do that could be done even if it’s raining.”
Stoffel Vandoorne – 1:20.325 (37 laps)
Headaches lingered during day two for McLaren. With temperatures outside the garage once again not ideal for testing the car thoroughly, an exhaust clip problem arose causing high temperatures under the bodywork. As a precaution, the mechanics spent the afternoon session stripping down the car to identify any other component damage.
Unfortunately, the repairs wrapped up too close to the chequered flag, and the team chose not to venture out due to worsening conditions outside the garage.
Positives still came out of the day with Stoffel Vandoorne clocking the third-fastest time from just 37 laps’ running, behind Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes.
“It was very nice to get back in the car after the winter break,” said Vandoorne. “It felt like I hadn’t left the cockpit so that was positive.
“What mainly held us back this morning were the weather conditions – it was a very cold and damp circuit which meant it took a while to get the running started for everyone. We took the opportunity to do some rake work and gather some aero data, and after that the track started to be in a reasonable condition, so we could do a few proper runs and try to understand a bit more about the car.
“The first impressions were very positive,” Vandoorne added.
“I felt comfortable, there were no surprises and we got some good learning done. Unfortunately, we had a small issue with the exhaust clip at lunchtime, which detached the exhaust and blew a lot of hot air onto some of the wiring looms – one of which is the brake.
“The snowy conditions are not very representative of what we will get during the season, so it’s very difficult to read into performance at this stage.”
Fernando Alonso – 2:18.545 (11 laps)
Snow overnight and into the morning ultimately delayed Day 3’s running. Alonso and a handful of other drivers chose to do some wet weather runs, although very little data could be collected.
Alonso did manage to come out of the day fastest, although admittedly no other drivers attempted to post a lap time.
It was a throwaway day to say the least and a good reminder of how important the final five days of testing will be to collect crucial information before points come into play at Melbourne.
Alonso was at least able to see the funny side of the situation.
“It’s good to be the car with the most laps on the board today!” quipped the Spaniard at the end of the day. “The poor weather conditions made things difficult all day long – we even had snow – so it was definitely not a normal day of testing and many people decided not to run.
“We still had some checks to do on the car as it’s very early days for us with this new package. We opted to do some background checks this morning in the garage – maybe not crucial to the car’s performance, but still good learning for us.
“I’m happy that despite a difficult day of testing for everyone we made the best of it.”
Stoffel Vandoorne– 1:19.854 (110 laps)
Fernando Alonso – 1:20.929 (51 laps)
After all the weather hassles and damage nuisances out of the way, McLaren finally got to put their foot down for the final day.
The track opened in very wet conditions due to overnight rain with the team electing to do some tricky early-morning runs. With conditions clearing, the track finally dried out and lap times started to tumble as Vandoorne ran through a comprehensive test plan racking up that all-important mileage.
Lunch was sacrificed on the final day due to lost time yesterday as Alonso also got to make up on missed opportunities the team lost from the Wednesday’s low-mileage day.
“Today was a very productive session for me,” said Vandoorne proudly. “(We) completed a lot of mileage and got a good understanding of the car.
“It feels good to get a good amount of laps on the board after we missed out a bit over the past few days. When the track started to dry I did some very good running, and completed a lot of set-up changes, trying to understand our package and how everything works together, and the feeling was positive.
“I finished today with 110 laps and it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do this. We had time to put Fernando in the car too for the final part of the session, so altogether a very productive day.”
“Today we’ve run reliably all day, which is a very positive way to end the first week of testing,” spoke Boullier confidently. “Today everything fell into place.
“I’m happy we’ve finally been able to run a full test programme today and follow our plan, which has given us some solid data and feedback from the factory. Being ‘winter world champions’ on the timesheets is not of interest to us – the important things are mileage and learning – and today we’re very satisfied with what we have managed to achieve.”
It was simply assumed that McLaren would start to match the level of Red Bull Racing’s performance come 2018. A competitive chassis, equal power unit and strong driver line-up of two-time world champion and now a veteran of the sport Fernando Alonso and upcoming talent in the form of McLaren protege Stoffel Vandoorne, who participates in his second full-time season in Formula 1.
Much is yet to come with the second pre-season test on the horizon. Better conditions are expected, we will start to see works teams release the sandbags and others put in the qualifying style performances. There are lots still to learn for Woking team, but it sure can be said a tight battle is looming which McLaren desperately wants to be a part of once again.
Image via McLaren