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Second straight challenging test day hits McLaren, Honda

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Not even a week ago at McLaren’s launch of its new MCL32 chassis, hopes were high about Honda’s power unit being a step forward for the year.

But Monday saw an oil system issue hamper Fernando Alonso’s first day of running this year at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona.

Things failed to improve on Tuesday for Stoffel Vandoorne’s first day with a full power unit change occurring today, and limiting the Belgian to the same number of laps – 29 – as his teammate, the two-time World Champion, completed on Monday. Following a change, Vandoorne completed 11 more laps for a total of 40 on the day.

It’s been a sincerely challenging start to say the least for both parties, who in their post-test release today explained today’s delay:

“After completing 29 laps, we lost power to the PU. Our priority was to minimize the loss of track time and continue with our testing program, so we took the decision to change it,” said Yusuke Hasegawa, Honda R&D Co. Ltd Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer. “We know we had a mechanical issue and we will not be reusing the power unit for this test, but we’ll have to investigate fully to identify the cause.

“Stoffel was back out on track by late afternoon and we were able to recover our schedule.

“Of course, it was disappointing to encounter further problems today, but tonight we’ll carry on our hard work to make further progress for Fernando’s session tomorrow.”

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier added, “It’s a shame we weren’t able to maximize the track time today due to the issue with the power unit, but it was encouraging once again that the team pulled together to replace the PU quickly in order to enable us to return to the track at the end of the afternoon session.

“When you design a new car and power unit under new regulations, it’s possible that there will be issues that arise that you cannot foresee in pre-season development. Of course, it’s unfortunate, but the important thing is that we learn from them, and there is already a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes by Honda to identify the issues and rectify them as soon as possible.

“Testing is just that: the prove-out of new components prior to the start of the season. We’ll continue with our planned test program tomorrow with Fernando, and keep pushing to make the most of the day’s running.”

With the back-to-back days of issues, McLaren Honda lags well behind the other nine teams in terms of lap count. Each team except McLaren has over 100 laps banked between the two days while combined, McLaren has just 69 official laps thus far – just three more than one-race distance at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.