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McLaren drivers cautious ahead of Honda’s home race

07 Oct 2016

Friday’s opening practice sessions at Suzuka seemed to provide more questions than answers for McLaren’s drivers, as the team look to score their first points on Japanese soil since reviving their partnership with engine suppliers Honda.

Despite finishing both FP1 and FP2 inside the top ten, Fernando Alonso went off at the Spoon Curve in the morning, and ended the day predicting that getting into Q3 in qualifying on Saturday could now be “quite difficult”.

“We’re still investigating the cause of this morning’s spin - it looks like there were some aerodynamic issues with the rear wing,” commented the Spaniard. “Luckily, we didn’t damage the car and could continue running until the end of FP1.

“We need to find something extra tonight - let’s just hope it doesn’t rain in FP3 tomorrow as we need to understand the changes we make tonight ahead of qualifying and the race. It’s been a tough day, generally.”

Team mate Jenson Button, meanwhile, was more optimistic about the possibility of a top-ten grid slot, but raised concerns over the team’s race pace after struggling with tyre degradation - something he feared was down to more than just set-up.

“On single-lap pace, the car doesn’t actually look too bad - I just didn’t get a great lap this afternoon,” said Button. “However, our long-run pace is more of an issue - and that’s something we need to solve as it’s usually a forte of mine, and it wasn’t today.

“The degradation is significant, we’re some way off, and we’re looking into the reasons why. I think there’s something not quite right, as opposed to there being a set-up issue; but hopefully we can fix it by tomorrow.”

Honda chief at McLaren, Yusuke Hasegawa, conceded it was difficult to assess where the team stands because of the changeable track conditions and the testing of various set-ups on both cars, but insisted things should get better on Saturday.

“Fernando was happier with his balance and we were able to run stable lap times, so we can say that he had a fairly decent Friday’s running,” said Hasegawa. “Jenson was less satisfied, especially with the tyre conditions, but his time gap to Fernando was not so off, so we are expecting him to improve during tomorrow’s running.”

The last time Honda scored points in their home Grand Prix was in 2006, when Button finished fourth for the Japanese manufacturer’s works team.