Fernando Alonso hopes the McLaren-Honda updates introduced at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix will allow the team to close the gap to the front, but the double world champion says getting into Q3 in Barcelona will be ‘difficult’.
Formula One’s return to Europe usually coincides with a flurry of upgrades unleashed up and down the field, and McLaren-Honda will have significant evolutions in a bid to make its package more competitive.
Although the British outfit and Japanese manufacturer have made noticeable progress since last year’s torrid campaign, the MP4-31 remains some way off the front-running pace.
“As always, reliability is a priority first and foremost, but I hope that the upgrades we’ll test on Friday will see us continue to push race by race, and allow us to keep fighting towards the front alongside our rivals in the midfield,” Alonso said.
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“We’re still learning a lot about our package as we visit each track, so it’s useful that we already have a lot of data from testing there that we can use to understand its characteristics and how our car will react to them.”
Alonso’s start to his 2016 season has been quite eventful, with the Spaniard involved in big crash in Melbourne and ruled out of the following race on medical grounds.
However, the 34-year-old is coming off a positive Russian Grand Prix that saw him score points for the first time since Hungary last year.
Having already called for more power in qualifying, Alonso repeats that improving his grid position will pave the way for more top-10 results.
“I’m looking forward to going ‘home’ to Barcelona and race in my country in front of my home fans. The atmosphere there is always incredible for any Spanish driver, and I have some very special memories from my wins there in 2006 [with Renault] and 2013 [for Ferrari].
“It’s notoriously difficult to overtake in Barcelona, so it’s important to get a good start and stay out of trouble on the first lap. After that, it’s a case of getting the strategy right, managing the tyre wear and maximising performance at the right times.
“It’s a fast circuit, so it’s certainly demanding for both the car and driver. The power unit, too, has to work very hard with such high average speeds.”
“Our performance in qualifying is something we’re working on all the time, to give us the best chance in the race. Getting into Q3 will certainly be difficult at this track, but, with the Spanish fans behind me, that’s got to be our aim.”
McLaren has not reached the final phase of qualifying since 2014, while Alonso’s 2013 Spanish Grand Prix win remains his most recent victory to date.
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