McLaren optimistic of big changes, growth with Honda in 2017

Photo: McLaren
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The color scheme on the McLaren MCL32 chassis – officially custom McLaren color Tarocco Orange – will inevitably be the big talking point from today’s launch.

But it’s what’s powering the orange and black liveried car that will make all the difference as to whether McLaren will continue its ascent back up the field from the depths of 2015, and after a solid step forward in 2016.

Within today’s launch, most of the key stakeholders at McLaren admit that beyond the chassis changes, the Honda power unit will be vital to McLaren’s ability to leap back into the top-five in the Constructor’s Championship. The team has finished sixth and ninth in the last two years, on 76 and 27 points, respectively.

“Based on our two years of acquired experience and constant progress, Honda has made big changes to the concept and layout of our 2017 power unit, the RA617H,” said Yusuke Hasegawa, Honda’s Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer.

“The main areas of change that we focused on has been to decrease the weight and lower the centre of gravity, so as to improve the balance of the car, while generating more output from the ICE [internal combustion engine].

“Also, owing to the new 2017 regulations fundamentally affecting the design of our new car, Honda has made a lot of changes to accommodate the updated chassis. The team has therefore continued their hard work throughout the winter to find an ideal balance. “The pre-season test in Barcelona will be very important for us, so as to learn the functionality of the car as a whole.

“Our relationship with McLaren will continue to strengthen as we further progress technically and operationally this year, to achieve our ultimate goal.”

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier said real “progress” seems felt thus far, and the preseason quotes speak to that.

“Within McLaren-Honda, there’s a tangible feeling of progress, of change,” he said. “This year’s rules reset is a valuable opportunity for us – it will allow us to make progress with what we feel is a well ordered and clearly defined chassis-engine package, and hopefully to narrow the delta between us and the front-running teams.

“There’s a feeling around the factory that we’re about to turn the corner. Our relationship with Honda has blossomed – there’s a real sense of comradeship to what we do now – and I think we’re all very excited about what we can achieve together this year.”

Chief operating officer Jonathan Neale added, “The journey ahead isn’t going to be easy, and I’ve emphasized that to everyone. We’ve made progress in the past 12 months, but we’re not where we need to be and we expect on-track competition to be fierce. To win in Formula 1 requires any competitor to be good at everything. Thoughtful but relentless pursuit of excellence is required.

“So, do I believe we’ll be back at the front this year? Realistically, probably not quite yet, no. But do I think we’ll continue to make meaningful improvement as a team? Absolutely. And that’s our aim: to make progress by establishing the proper and correct, if sometimes difficult, changes that are needed to go forward.”

Executive director Zak Brown took time to thank the partners which have made the effort possible. Although a significant title sponsor remains to be filled, other partners such as SAP, Johnnie Walker, Castrol, Stratasys, Hilton and Chandon were all mentioned within the team’s release, in addition to the obvious partner of Honda.

With hopes high of improvement this year, quite how much further McLaren can move forward remains one of the biggest question marks of 2017. The team last stood on a podium when Kevin Magnussen was second at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix, in a race Jenson Button got moved up to third post-race following Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification for a fuel irregularity. McLaren’s last win was with Button in the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.