“Real progress is being made”
Sepang International Circuit, Saturday March 28
McLaren-Honda will start from 17th (Jenson Button) and 18th (Fernando Alonso) on the grid for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
Both drivers did two runs apiece in the opening Q1 session. Jenson continued to shave tenths off his lap-times throughout the session, eventually finishing with a 1m41.636s best. By contrast, Fernando proved immediately quick, setting his fastest time of the session on his first flying lap, but failing to improve after fitting fresh tyres and having another go.
Despite qualifying in the same positions as in Australia, our pace relative to the front-runners has improved: in Melbourne, our cars were 2.790s off the fastest Q1 time (103.2%); here, they were 2.262s away (102.3%), on a significantly longer lap.
Tomorrow’s race will provide another opportunity to make progress.
18th 1m42.319s (+2.629s) 13 laps
Q1 17th overall 1m41.636s (on Options)
“It was very difficult to get temperature into the tyres during the qualifying session – I really struggled in the first sector on every run I did, but was able to make the car work in the second and third sectors.
“Before qualifying, I think we’d have hoped to be a bit closer to the cars in front of us, but this weekend has seen us take a massive step forward in performance.
“Also, I think our race pace – and our consistency over a long run – look like giving us a little extra. I’d like to think we could get closer to some of the cars in front tomorrow; that’ll be something to look forward to.
“There are a lot of positives to take from this weekend: we’ve made a big step forwards in terms of pace. There’s more to come from the engine and the aero package, but we know what to do.”
15th 1m41.991s (+2.301s) 13 laps
Q1 18th overall 1m41.958s (on Options)
“Our form today wasn’t unexpected, but I think our performance so far this weekend has maybe been better than I’d have anticipated before arriving here in Malaysia.
“In fact, I’d say the progress we’ve made since Australia has been fantastic – we’re much closer to the cars in front now – but we’re still under-performing and we still need to improve. However, the steps we’re taking with the car show a lot of progress, so I’m optimistic that I won’t be qualifying in Q1 for that much longer.
“If it rains tomorrow, it’ll be another learning process for the team. For me, too, the start procedure, the formation lap, the pit-stops – they’ll all be firsts for me as I wasn’t able to practise any of them in Australia. That makes me feel confident that there’s a lot more to come in the next few weeks.
“This isn’t an ideal position from which to start the race, but I’m fully aware that McLaren-Honda is a long-term project: we want to beat Mercedes, and to do that you need time, and to be prepared to take your chances as they come.”
Racing director, McLaren-Honda
“Obviously, qualifying 17th and 18th isn’t what we want to be doing – very far from it – but I don’t wish to dwell on the self-evident negatives when in actual fact there are quite a few positives for me to comment on.
“First of all, it’s good to see Fernando back in the cockpit, and even better to note that he approached and conducted his first McLaren-Honda qualifying session with such infectious enthusiasm.
“Jenson and he recorded almost identical lap-times – a testimony to the fact that they both managed to get the absolute maximum from what MP4-30 currently has to offer.
“Although we’re no farther up the grid here than we were in Melbourne, it’s clear that MP4-30 has a significant amount more to offer on the swooping curves of Sepang than it did on the point-and-squirt switchback that is Albert Park. And that performance delta is a result of the fact that it’s already a better car, not a result of the fact that we’re racing on a very different kind of circuit this weekend.
“We’re not satisfied; of course we aren’t; we know we still have a mountain to climb. But it’s clear that real progress is being made, and, bearing in mind where we are on our car-development curve at the moment, that’s what matters.
“That progress will continue, mark my words.”
Honda R&D senior managing officer – chief officer of motorsport
“Within the space of just two weeks, we’ve worked incredibly hard to make some useful performance steps. And, as I said yesterday, it’s encouraging to see that the gap to the front has been reduced, albeit not by enough to be competitive.
“Today’s qualifying result was also a little bit disappointing. However, I think we can look forward to some enjoyable battles with those cars who qualified slightly ahead of us tomorrow.
“This evening, we’ll analyse everything that we possibly can from today, and see what comes from tomorrow.”