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Pre-Silverstone analysis - Button upbeat after engine rule tweak

03 Jul 2015

Just when things were looking a little bleak for McLaren, with both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button having further engine problems even before their MP4-30s turned a wheel this weekend, the McLaren-Honda alliance was thrown a bit of a lifeline late last night.

Following the swingeing grid penalties that left them at the back of the grid in Austria, it was discovered that the Spaniard’s fifth engine of the year had been damaged in the crash with Kimi Raikkonen in Spielberg, and that there was a sensor problem which raised a question over Button’s fifth unit which he had used there.

It seems likely that both will use old engines here, but the ray of light for the future is that the F1 Strategy Group meeting on Wednesday decided that for the sake of fairness new teams should be allowed to use a fifth power unit, as their rivals were in the first year of the new regulations. This was applied retrospectively to Honda for the 2015 season.

Button has never managed to win his home Grand Prix, and admits that it is a special race for him.

“Every race that we race in is a special one, you can find reasons to be excited,” he said, “but when it’s your home Grand Prix it’s always very special. The British fans and public, whether it’s raining, 32 degrees, there’s a British guy at the front or a British guy at the back, they will always be here to support us, which is fantastic. It’s always a very, very special atmosphere here and I’m really looking forward to the weekend.

“We are one team and we work together and if we have issues we talk amongst ourselves and that’s the only way to improve a situation. The confidence is high within the team. You might say why is that? The last two races have been very difficult, but there is a massive belief within the team that we will improve. There is a lot in the pipeline. I don’t want to look too far into the future, you know, I’m one of those people that wants to live in the moment and do the best I can right now. It’s the British Grand Prix, in front of the home crowd and I’m really looking forward to it and I will maximise what we have this weekend.”

That means the new upgrade that was seen on Alonso’s car in Austria, plus some other little tweaks, as both MP4-30s will run in identical specification. This comprises the new, shorter Williams-style nose, and new front and rear wings, and a new undertray. A further upgrade will come in time for Hungary at the end of the month.

While Button wants to do his best in front of the home crowd, Alonso is determined to finish after four consecutive retirements.

"After them I would like to see the chequered flag if possible," he said. "If we do so, I think to see how competitive we are is an answer that we need to get this weekend.

"The important thing is not to get frustrated, to keep working in the same direction, and I think the second part of the year will show a completely different McLaren, much more competitive.

"The steps that are coming are quite big. This is not too difficult when you are at the back of the grid. Every step you take is half a second, or eight tenths. When you are fighting for the podium, you gain one tenth every two weeks. I think we will get much closer to the top guys in the second half of the championship and for next year as well."

And now, with a fifth engine permitted, they may not have to start taking further penalties if Honda can massage greater reliability into the power unit. This will be a particular relief to McLaren chief Ron Dennis, who said recently: “Our commitment remains to win the world championship. That requires you to have laser focus on each aspect of the car, and everything has got to be the best of the best. And neither Honda nor ourselves expected the challenge to be quite as difficult as it has been. But they started with a clean piece of paper, not just in terms of the engine, but also the research and development facilities which are completely new.

“We know this is a very big challenge, but we are making good progress. Honda have made so many engines over the years that I know we will have one of the best, if not the best. But these hybrid powertrains with their energy recovery systems are very, very complex and it doesn't matter who drives the cars, it takes you time to master it.”

David Tremayne