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Pre-Spa analysis - McLaren the big winners of start changes?

21 Aug 2015

Few drivers seem overly worried about the new start procedures brought in by the FIA for this weekend's Belgian race, in which they may only adjust one of their clutch levers once they have left the pits bound for the grid. But with Honda introducing engine upgrades, McLaren may well be the biggest beneficiaries of the switch...

Fernando Alonso did not seem to think it would make much difference.

"It will not be a significant change. I know that there is some talk about this but maybe for next year or the following years will be more different [when the whole process will be manual]. What we will have here is just some restrictions in communications with the drivers and the team, but at least in our team we were not doing any specific communication or strategy during the formation laps, so it will not change much."

Team mate Jenson Button even thinks it could help McLaren, as both he and Alonso will probably have to take grid penalties; he faces up to five, the Spaniard 10. He is hopeful that he can gain an advantage if they are on top of the new starting procedure, "Because we could make up four or five places easily straight away."

Honda have spent three tokens upgrading their troubled engine for this power circuit, in the hope of matching Ferrari, but while engine chief Yasuhisa Arai speaks optimistically, McLaren are playing things down and Button himself was notably cautious. "We'll see when we get out on the circuit," he said, "and then we'll know exactly where we are."

Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, is likely to be at the opposite end of the grid for Mercedes. And even though his starts have been poor since Austria, the world champion is bullish after the summer break - and work in the simulator - and believes the team have addressed the underlying issues.

"This feels like a really good weekend," he said. "And if I don't know what to do on a grid formation lap without speaking with my engineer, I might as well give up."

Nevertheless, Sebastian Vettel is only 42 points adrift of him with 225 available in the second half of the season, and Mercedes are well aware of Ferrari's growing challenge, especially after Hungary. 

"Clearly Ferrari have made a big step forward, winning two races fair and square, although you can say they weren't our best days either," Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff admits. "We've won eight of 10 races, so looking at the pure statistics we should be in good shape. But we take Ferrari very seriously, and this is the mentality we have going into the second half of the season. It would be narrow minded and naive not to expect them to be competitive."

Hamilton added: "Naturally we're here to win and we're focused on making sure we stay up front, but we're fully aware that other teams are pushing very hard and Ferrari are looking great. So we don't arrive at any race thinking that we are superior to anyone. We know that we have a fight on our hands and so we're going to work at trying to make sure we work harder than them.

"I anticipate that they will be fast here, but not faster than us. This is a power circuit and we are really strong on power. So I think Mercedes power will shine this weekend. To be honest, I don't look at any specific person as a threat - it's anyone who can take points away from me. I want to win, and if someone is ahead of me they are the only one that matters."

Learn more about the new start procedures...