The opener of the 2016 F1 season is the Australian Gran Prix. One of the most anticipated teams for this season was the McLaren Honda team, but unfortunately, they were unable to earn points at the beginning of this season.
Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button showed their full force in achieving the top time from the Q1 segment of the qualifying round on the day before the season opener. Although they missed out on the Q3 segment, other racers were demoted to the back of the grid as a penalty so they were able to start in 11th and 12th from the grid. One corner of the Albert Park Circuit was very narrow, so the groups would easily get caught in accidents in that area, but both of them were able to pass there without any difficulties, and were able to race powerfully within the circuit quickly. The racing pace, which was last year’s problem, has caught the attention of the viewers.
Alonso was able to finish changing tires on the 12th lap, but shortly after that, he bumped into Esteban Gutierrez (of Haas team) so he accidentally crashed into a wall beside the course. Because of that, the machine turned several times like it was revolving in midair, and it stopped while toppled sideways. The machine was destroyed to the point where its original form could no longer be identified. Luckily, Alonso escaped the crash by himself without getting major injuries.
The expectation was placed on Button, who was the only driver left for the McLaren Honda team, but this accident became a great misfortune for their team. Just before the accident occurred, Button rose up to 8th place, and after taking his first pit stop, he retreated to 15th place. But at this point, the race was red-flagged. At this point, all the machines were stopped at the pit lane, and were authorized to switch their tires. Button’s rivals who were ahead of him did not have any time loss while changing their tires at the pit stop, so it was a disadvantageous situation for him.
And when the race resumed, most of his rival teams were able to race with their own strategies until the end as they switched to medium tires. On the other hand, Button selected supersoft tires. He was able to show a speed that made him rise up the ranking from several laps after the race resumed, but his pace also went down and he couldn’t keep a constant performance. He made his second pit stop at the 30th lap, and switched to medium tires.
The second part of the race was about endurance, so he was able to keep up a stable pace for about 1 minute and 32 seconds. Finally, he got the checkers at 14th place, which is one lap away from the top placer.
Button commented after the race, “The machine did not have any problems, but our strategy was imperfect. The red flag was also a misfortune for us. That was because I already finished my first pit stop when it occurred. After that, I was able to race up to 10 more laps using super soft tires, but all the other racing teams switched to medium tires when the race resumed. It seemed that those tires suited their performance. I was able to catch up with the other rivals at the last part, but it was not easy to overtake them.” There were some parts that went opposite from their strategy, but the performance of the machine did not have any major problems.
On the other hand, Alonso, who was caught on a huge crash, said, “Right after the accident, I immediately wanted to tell my mother that I’m safe. Various factors occurred, and I regrettably got into contact with Gutierrez. It was a race accident. It’s a great thing that both of us are safe, and that’s more important than anything else.”
By looking at the results, they were not able to acquire points in this race, and their strategies have been taken over by that huge incident. McLaren Honda’s Racing Director Ã‰ric Boullier commented, “I believe that the progress we have accomplished in the middle of winter has secretly become an encouragement to us. The chaos in the preliminary round has decreased, and if there are no accidents in the race, we will definitely work hard to arrive on a great position on the race and achieve points.” He said with a great sign towards this season, which is a totally different situation from last year’s season opener.
As the race for this season went on with continuous chaos, there were parts of the McLaren Honda MP4-31’s true ability that were difficult to understand. It’s now being anticipated whether they will be able to show the performance that they have cultivated in the middle of winter at the F1 Bahrain GP next round.
(Translated by Claire Marie Sausora)