McLaren have insisted the team remain united and that they are making forward strides in the wake of Fernando Alonso’s frustrated claim that they were “looking like amateurs” during a poor performance at Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix.
The team have not won the constructors’ championship since 1998 and the drivers’ title since Lewis Hamilton in 2008. They are without a title sponsor and have finished fifth for the past two seasons. Their partnership with Honda, it was acknowledged from the beginning, was not expected to produce instant results but was seen as the only way they could challenge Mercedes. However, off the pace from the first race and unable to produce a reliable car, the team are now under intense scrutiny.
They have scored points only once this season: Jenson Button’s eighth-place finish in Monaco, a track that masked the car’s deficiencies. McLaren are ninth in the championship, in front of only Manor, and reliability upgrades brought to Canada failed to deliver. Asked to conserve fuel during the race, Alonso replied over team radio: “I don’t want, I don’t want. I have really big problems now, driving with these and looking like amateurs.” Both he and Button ultimately retired, the second time both cars have failed to finish this season and the first time since his debut season for Minardi in 2001 that Alonso has retired from three races in a row.
Alonso acknowledged the pressure afterwards. “It is what it is. I know from the outside they want to crush us,” he told motorsport.com. “We are going through a bad streak and we can’t do anything else but continue working.” Despite his outburst Alonso insisted he remained confident with the team and their partnership with Honda. “We can’t forget we were here last year finishing fifth or sixth, desperate because there was no one who could catch Mercedes,” he said. “Instead of fighting for sixth or seventh we took a risky decision, which was going to McLaren-Honda. This year we are paying the price for it being the first year and having a lot of things to do. I believe in this project. I’m enjoying the experience. Everything I see has coherence and optimism for the future, which is something I couldn’t see before. So, patience.”
His team-mate, Button, who had the unedifying experience of being lapped by former team-mate Hamilton as early as lap 23, said the team had a long way to go and not just in terms of power. “Of course we have issues in terms of reliability at the moment and a few other things but we still have to do a lot of work on the car,” he said.
“If we had the most powerful engine out there we still wouldn’t win any races right now because the car still has lots of areas where we need to improve.
“We won’t get a podium this year. Next year will be a lot more exciting than 2015 but you cannot just jump to 2016, you have to do the work, otherwise you don’t deserve the good results.”
Somewhat defensive and no doubt tiring of having to put the team’s position forward after a difficult weekend, he defended Alonso saying: “We all get frustrated. It is the same when a driver makes a mistake. The team get frustrated”, but also insisted that the team were moving forward. “We are not going to suddenly set the world alight and win the next race – that was never going to happen and none of us ever thought that,” he added. “When you are on the inside you see the improvements, for the next race we have a new aero package, a lot of different things on the car. There is a new engine package, a lot of things coming to Austria and then another step at Silverstone.”
Éric Boullier, the team manager, was not concerned with Alonso’s outburst. The Spaniard is known to be impatient and, asked if he might turn against the team, Boullier said: “If we are still like this next year, then yes, of course, I’m sure he’s going to turn mad, but I don’t think he will. He is happy with the team, happy where he is now. He wants to win, he wants to race, he wants to compete, he is a winner.”
The team, he also insisted, will work through their issues with Honda behind closed doors. “We don’t want to be like Renault and Red Bull – shit-fighting in the media. There is no sense in that,” Bouiller said. “There is a proper reason why we moved to Honda, and we are happy with the move, even if it is frustrating now.”
At the other end of the field race-winner Lewis Hamilton was enjoying coming back so strongly after disappointment when a poor pit call cost him the win in Monaco. “Last year I even surprised myself with the mental strength I had to get through those difficult times,” he said. “I was faced with one again in the last race, which was in the top two of the toughest for me. To be able to bounce back this weekend, I am really, really happy with that.”
His performance all weekend was strong and culminated in a pole to flag win that puts him 17 points clear of his team-mate Nico Rosberg at the top of the championship table. With six poles from seven races he was particularly pleased with his qualifying performance. “One more and I will have equalled my poles from last year,” he said. “There isn’t any secret, my whole F1 career I’ve always been quick in qualifying. Last year for some reason in the heat of the moment when I needed to pull lap out I wasn’t able to put the laps together and this year I have put them together. That has been a focus this year to improve on last year, keep the race strength and improve my qualifying and that’s what I’ve done.”
With four wins now to Rosberg’s two (including Monaco which the German driver admits fell into his lap) this season, his team-mate has yet to prove he can take the fight to Hamilton but Hamilton insists he is focussing only on his own performance. “I do my talking on the track,” he said. “He’s driving well and [although] I won the world championship last year, I can’t just drive the same. I’ve got to find ways of improving and I’ve been trying to. Nothing needs to be changed massively but I’ve been trying small things, improve my qualifying, my races are just as strong so I’ve just got to continue that. How do I improve the next race? How do I get the same lead as I had in Monaco again?”
Before the race Hamilton had defended his jet-set lifestyle –one approved of by Bernie Ecclestone as good for promoting the sport– and with another win under his belt insisted afterwards he would not change. Asked whether it might be easy not to get lost amid celebrity and fame he replied: “I’ve never even been close to being lost in that sense. It’s just the way I was raised. I’m not going to get lost, I can do anything I really want to do. Jumping off the boat, jumping off rocks, jet skiing, all those things I like to do, I still do them. That’s me going wild. There’s no other way I want to go. What else is there to do? I am already living life to the full.” Nor were alcohol and drugs a temptation, he concluded. “Never ever want to do either. I cant really understand why people do it. So no. never had it my family.”
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