McLaren have admitted they may not have a competitive car until May – even though the Formula One season starts in Melbourne on March 15. The Woking team have been savaged by reliability problems since being reunited with Honda, and on the penultimate day of testing, Kevin Magnussen was forced to quit after just 39 laps because of an oil leak. Magnussen was driving in place of Fernando Alonso, who is still recovering from his crash at the Circuit de Catalunya a week ago.
Eric Boullier, McLaren’s racing director, was asked how the team would shape up in Australia, and how long it would take before they were fully competitive. He told the Observer: “We won’t be as ready as we would like, but we will do our best. We have covered most of the issues, and most of the systems. The positive is everything is working, but reliability is a concern, clearly. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I think it’s going to take a few races but at least by Europe we should be ready to be more competitive.”
Before the F1 circus returns to Europe there are races in Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain. After years of under-achievement McLaren are pinning their hopes of a revival on a combination of Honda and Alonso – but both had problems in Barcelona and Honda’s motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai caused raised eyebrows when he said: “The engine is fine.”
He also created bewilderment when he admitted he did not know how many development tokens McLaren had for the year. But here there should be some sympathy for him.
McLaren’s rivals each have 32 development tokens to improve their power units in 2015. But Honda, as a new engine supplier, will have fewer – and that figure can only be calculated when the manufacturers reveal how many they have at the start of the season. Honda will then take the average of the remaining tokens not used by Australia.
Boullier was also asked when he would know whether Alonso would be fit to race in Australia. “Soon,” he said. “I think as soon as the green light is given by the doctors, so it should be next week. It’s not in my hands. But there is nothing wrong.”
Meanwhile, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was the fastest man in testing here on Saturday after a late lap pinched the thunder from Felipe Massa, who was top of the timesheets for most of the day.