Fernando Alonso cut a downbeat figure on Thursday as media commitments for the new Formula 1 season got underway, with the McLaren team looking poised for a bleak first round in Australia.
McLaren entered 2017 looking to build on an encouraging campaign last year as engine partner Honda resolved a number of issues and produced a power unit more capable of matching its rivals.
Honda looked to make more gains ahead of the new season following the removal of the restrictive ‘token’ system for engine updates, opting to redesign its power unit to mirror that of pack leader Mercedes.
Pre-season went horribly for McLaren-Honda, though, with a number of issues forcing the team on the sidelines and preventing it from completing more than 11 consecutive laps in Barcelona. Alonso was vocal in his criticism of Honda, saying its power unit offered “no reliability” and “no power”.
Alonso faced a grilling from the media on Thursday in Melbourne, and made no secret of McLaren’s uncertainty over where it stands in the F1 pecking order.
“We have only done the testing period, so I think the first race now will put things a little bit more clear. It’s a question mark also for us where we exactly are,” Alonso said.
“We were not able to push the car to anywhere close to the limit at any lap on the testing, due to different problems. Let’s see. If we can have a good first weekend, see a little bit more of the potential of the car and hopefully see where we are.
“But yeah, still a long way to go for us and a lot of work to do. The team is always working to improve the situation, to work as hard we can, to identify the problems and to improve those areas.
“I guess everyone did the maximum in the last three weeks and let’s see what we can find tomorrow on the track.”
There were a couple of occasions in the press conference when Alonso’s exasperation over the situation was more clear, the first coming when all of the drivers were asked for what changes they would like to see in F1 under new owner Liberty Media.
After seeing rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton say they wanted V12 engines to return to F1, Alonso added: “I agree! Equal engines for everyone!”
Daniel Ricciardo chipped in with “but not electric!”, before Hamilton quipped: “And not Honda. I’m kidding…” Alonso laughed it off, but the truth in the comment will have stuck with him.
Alonso was also asked whether driving an uncompetitive car would detract from his enjoyment of driving the new-style models in 2017, which offer greater cornering speed and are more challenging to race.
“I think all sportsmen, we are competitive. When you arrive to race like we are doing now in the first grand prix of the year, you know that joy is together if you are competitive,” Alonso said.
“Let’s see how competitive we can be this year. At least when you are driving alone, you are enjoying.
“Then when you have a car close to you and they go much faster than you, that’s a little bit less enjoyable…”
The new F1 season begins in Australia this weekend, and is live across NBCSN and the NBC Sports App.