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F1 Malaysia: McLaren Is The Story, At The Back Of The Grid

Hoping Honda has managed to find something meaningful.
Hoping Honda has managed to find something meaningful.

It would be a solid bet that when Fernando Alonso was unconscious, after slamming into the wall at Barcelona, he dreamt of the storied marques days of glory and not the nightmare that he was now enduring.

Instead he woke up to find his car crashed, his brain scrambled and he and McLaren embroiled in controversy and mystery. The black helicopter crowd, at times myself, had to wonder what might have caused such a seemingly run of the mill crash and the follow-on media circus.

Making matters more convoluted, he had to sit out the season opener, probably not regretting having done so, to prevent another possible concussion all the while watching his teammate become the only car not to finish in the points while being lapped twice. He, at least, avoided the embarrassment.

You can only imagine what Fernando is thinking for this weekends Malaysian Grand Prix. He has to find some solace, if only for self-preservation, in knowing that these first several races are simply stress tests for the new car and pretend they’re not actual race meets.

We’re talking a two time world champion, whom most consider the most complete F1 driver in the world, climbing into a car he hasn’t touched for a month, that has proven to be a mockery of the word reliable and then entering into a Grand Prix that is notorious for breaking down even the most dependable cars.

The odds certainly aren’t in McLaren-Honda’s favor. In Melbourne, reserve driver Kevin Magnussen was billowing smoke from his car before it even made it to the grid. Fortunately, Jenson Button was able to finish the race but the power unit had to be tuned down in order to not disintegrate. They knew if they tuned the engine up a notch it would simply melt down. Not a confidence booster. It’s just fundamentally sad to see a team so proud of repatriating a winning old asset in Honda only to be so far behind.

Ever the gentleman, Button slogged on to finish in Melbourne.
Ever the gentleman, Button slogged on to finish in Melbourne.

However, this is the only team that’s going to have its limits pushed up in Malaysia. Every driver on the grid is going to be put to the test as well as the cars. Malaysia is tantamount to a swamp, with high temperatures, high humidity and often monsoon rains that aren’t friendly to turbocharged power-plant engine systems . Turbochargers operate best under cold air conditions, cold air being more condensed. Even Mercedes-Benz will have to take into consideration that the wet weather that’s forecast for Sunday could affect their reliability.

As for the drivers, they’re Europeans and Europeans do not live in climates that are tropical, they often suffer from heat exhaustion. We’ve seen this time and time again with drivers like Kimi Raikkonen and others from the Germanic countries, Valtteri Bottas being one. It will be interesting to see just how much this affects the drivers ability to operate ultra-complex machinery in such harsh conditions.

I have no doubt that Honda has taken this into consideration and will take all the measures necessary to ensure that their cars finish the race. That, however, is not a given as no one knows how well these automobiles will operate in wet conditions (90% Chance of rain forecast for Sunday) with such high output energy systems. Sadly, what this means is that Honda once again have to de-tune their power plants in order to at least finish the race. In the off chance that Honda has found something since Melbourne, a rain storm would be a welcome sight for the team as it is, as they say, the great equalizer.

Despite all these seemingly impossible roadblocks, Fernando Alonso says he looks forward to racing this weekend and realizes it’s going to be tough getting into the MP4-30 for the first time in an actual Grand Prix. He is after all a racing driver and one of the worlds best and thus, a realist.

Button says that he doesn’t expect a huge leap forward for the MP4-30 this weekend but he also stated that one of their main goals was to maximize their track time. No doubt a smart strategy given most of their time has been spent in the garage. It’s far better to use the next few races as test sessions than it is to overpower the cars and have them blow up on the first lap. Let’s face it, these flyway races are just that, only when they reach Europe again will Honda be able to make any major improvements. In fact, you could say these are throwaway races not fly away.

On a positive note, Alonzo has done his homework. He’s been working hard on his fitness and claims he feels ready for the weekend. He’s worked hard in the simulator and will have to pass final medical tests on Thursday (today) before is given the green light, which I’m sure he will.

While neither Alonzo or Button is going to be too excited about driving in Malaysia this year, both these men are world champions and consummate professionals. They are very aware that what they do now will affect what happens next year in fighting for the world championship. It’s important to note that Alonzo has won this race three times ,one of which was in 2007 with McLaren.

While there’s no doubt the McLaren-Honda partnership isn’t going to win any races in the near-term, you can never rule out this pair in 2016.

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