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McLaren: No fundamental issues with Honda F1 power unit design

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McLaren racing director Eric Boullier has insisted that there are no fundamental issues with Honda’s new Formula 1 power unit design despite a number of issues arising during testing earlier this week.

McLaren enters the 2017 F1 campaign hopeful of returning to the podium, having not recorded a top-three finish since linking up with Honda at the start of 2015.

Power unit issues blighted McLaren for much of the 2015 campaign before progress was made last year, with the British team finishing sixth in the constructors’ championship.

Such progress led to hopes that 2017 could yield even better results, only for McLaren to lose hours of track time through the first pre-season test due to issues with Honda’s power unit.

The Japanese manufacturer has changed the layout of its power unit for 2017, but Boullier insists that the issues experienced during testing are not set to blight McLaren’s entire season.

“It is fixable, but it was not the plan to have these issues,” Boullier said, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“They are not really serious, as there are no fundamental issues with the design.”

Having seen drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne manage just 208 laps in total – by comparison, mileage leader Mercedes managed 558 – Boullier conceded that McLaren’s expectations for the first test had not been met.

“We had slightly higher expectations coming to Barcelona, but then the week didn’t start exactly as we wanted,” Boullier said.

“I think there is a bit more work to be done in Japan to investigate why we had those issues: issues that we absolutely did not expect to have – and for sure neither did Honda.”

Boullier added that McLaren was in “a much better situation” than at this point in 2015 or 2016, but conceded: “It is not good enough for our expectations and the expectations of our fans after three years.

“Honda are still three years behind in time to the others. Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari started in 2010 – and all these three started with an existing organization, as all three were already doing F1 engines

“In 2013 Honda decided to come back to Formula One and started from scratch: empty buildings! They had to buy everything and find the right people.

“So to be fair you have manufacturers who had seven years and are still struggling, and Honda started four years after the others.

“These units are so complicated that you have to be really process driven and go step by step.

“Unfortunately there is no short cut.”

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.