The McLaren-Honda Relationship Is…Improving?

Suddenly, McLaren-Honda and Fernando Alonso have some positive things to say.

Dan Istitene, Getty Images Sport

We all know the story by now: McLaren-Honda, uncompetitive, crap engine, Fernando Alonso wants out, yada yada. Though most news that comes out about McLaren-Honda these days is deservedly negative, glimmers of hope show on occasion—and in an interview with GPUpdate, Alonso admitted that the McLaren-Honda situation has improved noticeably since the start of the season. 

"As the season goes on we're getting stronger and stronger," said Alonso, "and I hope the second half of the year will bring us some more points-earning finishes." 

He and his team are nevertheless prepared for a challenging Belgian Grand Prix this weekend, as the fast Spa-Francorchamps track will accentuate the established weaknesses of the Honda engine.

"This race is a difficult challenge for the whole team, [including] the engineers and the mechanics, as you're on the throttle for almost three quarters of the lap, which makes it's a tough circuit for both the car and the driver," stated Alonso. 

Yusuke Hasegawa of Honda's engine program also views this weekend as another challenge for McLaren-Honda. "We see Spa-Francorchamps as a challenging circuit for us with its power-hungry features," he said to GPUpdate. "However, we will try our best to have a good race and maintain the momentum we acquired in Hungary," referring to the stellar P6 finish and fastest lap achieved by Fernando Alonso at this year's Hungarian Grand Prix.

Additionally, Honda is working harder than ever at bringing its engine up to snuff. The company has as many as three more upgrades planned for this season, and it has improved their dyno testing procedures to avoid replicating the vibration issues they faced in this 2017 pre-season. Furthermore, Honda has at last swallowed their pride and accepted outside help from Ilmor on its engine design, which has already resulted in promising progress on the dyno. Whether the Ilmor-influenced improvements will be ready for use before 2018 remains to be seen.

One thing we do know, however, is that Stoffel Vandoorne, whose 2018 season is confirmed to be at McLaren, will be on the painful end of a 35-place grid penalty for the Belgian Grand Prix—and will likely be starting at the back of the grid, regardless of qualifying performance. This is due to his upgrade to an interim "spec 3.6" Honda engine, which has improved reliability over his previously used "spec 3" engine. His teammate, Alonso, will be running the "spec 3.5" to avoid incurring grid penalties like Vadoorne, according to Motorsport.

Whether or not Honda improves enough by the end of the season—or by the 2018 Australian Grand Prix—may not matter to Alonso, though. He has stated that his decision on whether or not to stay with the team will be made in Belgium. Let us hope that Alonso finds reason to stay with the team, as the near future for McLaren-Honda hasn't looked as promising since 2014...or, from another way of looking at it, 1988.