More misery for McLaren as Alonso's car grinds to a halt
ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 24, 2017 09:13 AM
McLaren's Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain enters the pitlane during the first practice session at the F1 Grand Prix circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, Friday, June 23, 2017. The Formula One Grand Prix of Europe will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — McLaren wants significant improvement from its underperforming engine supplier Honda, with their increasingly strained partnership further tested at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Friday.
Fernando Alonso's car packed up 30 minutes before the end of Friday's second practice. This time it was a gear box issue, racing director Eric Boullier explained, rather than yet another engine failure.
Hardly a cause for celebration.
"As a partner we expect a certain level of performance (from Honda)," Boullier said. "We need another step, a big step."
Rather than going straight back to the garage, as drivers usually do, Alonso stood behind the barriers watching the end of the second practice. Two weeks ago, when his car crawled to a halt right at the end of the Canadian GP, he walked through the crowd and mingled with fans.
Symbolically, perhaps, Alonso seems to be keeping a distance as he considers his future. It seems that the two-time F1 champion, who recently raced in the Indianapolis 500, would rather be anywhere than back in the team garage discussing engine problems all over again.
"Fernando has been very clear," Boullier said. "He said he will take a decision in the summer."
McLaren is the only team yet to score a point after seven races amid growing rumors it is considering a new engine deal with Mercedes.
"We were very slow," a despondent Boullier said after practice. "We were expecting to be slow."
The situation is unlikely to change in Baku, where Alonso and Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne will start Sunday's race from way back on the grid after incurring penalties for further engine changes.
Both drivers have made six component changes already — with rules allowing only four each per year before penalties are incurred. They will drop 15 grid places relative to where they qualify, which almost certainly means the back row.
Between them, they have completed only four races with a best finish of 12th by Alonso.
Vandoorne has been affected by the difficult start.
"He had a lot of issues with the car at the beginning of the season, a lot of little glitches," Boullier explained. "His confidence level then went a bit lower."
Boullier said the drivers "need to move toward each other" to improve their working relationship.
A reliable engine is a bigger priority.