BUDAPEST, Hungary — Fernando Alonso says McLaren now knows “exactly what to do” to turn its ailing performance around.
After setting its sights on podiums and potential victories with a switch to Renault power over the winter, McLaren has underperformed in the opening eleven races of the year. The team, which has undergone a major reshuffle in recent months, uncovered an aerodynamic weakness on the car in the first few races that did not show up in the wind tunnel.
As it has set about rectifying the problem, the team’s results have tailed off as it has started devoting Friday practice sessions to understanding the lack of aero performance. Alonso says the hard work has now paid off, but it might not be until next year that McLaren can make a significant step in performance.
“I think we are working very hard and very deep into the weaknesses of the car,” he said. “First we identified them in race three/race four, in Barcelona we introduced a new package with a new nose and different things and we recovered a little bit the level. So we performed well in Barcelona and Monaco but then we came back to our original problems and lack of performance.
“After investing three or four Friday FP1s doing just aero development and aero understanding — knowing that maybe we compromised the race weekend a little and the qualifying — we have got a lot of information on those Fridays. I think now we are at the point that we know exactly what to do. There are some fixes for this year but let’s say that 70 percent of the knowledge and the understanding of the car will be for next year’s project because it requires time — three or four months development and wind tunnel time etc — that is probably better to invest for next year.
“Sometimes it’s good to go very deep into the problems and down in performance to understand the car. So I see a much clearer and brighter future now with all the problems and all the understanding now.”
Alonso explained that McLaren has only really had one major car upgrade this season.
“We didn’t keep bringing anything. We had basically one upgrade this year, in Barcelona, for all the other races we brought small parts that didn’t bring significant performance, some of those parts were experimental, some of them were negative, not positive, so, overall, we only brought one update.”
In recent months, chief technical officer Tim Goss has left the team as well as racing director Eric Boullier. On Thursday McLaren confirmed James Key would join as technical director from Toro Rosso, with engineering director Matt Morris standing down.
Alonso, whose future at the team beyond the end of 2018 remains uncertain, is confident the new development path will reap rewards.
“I like the direction. We definitively need to be honest with ourselves, understand the problem, understand the lack of performance. Once you accept the car is not quick enough and there’s a lack of performance, then you start searching for new ideas, new people, new philosophies — all these things.
“I think the way of taking people from the outside, maybe with different philosophies, changing a little bit the structure, simplifying how everything runs in the car, in the team, I think are all positive steps to make McLaren competitive in the near future. This is Formula One, things won’t change from one day to the next, it takes time. But everything I’ve seen in the last two or three grand prix feel logical, so that’s good.”