Not seen on TV: Breathtaking Alonso V Gasly – McLaren better than we thought?

McLaren have quite simply under performed this season, the switch from Honda to Renault power hasn’t given the team results they were hoping for.

2017 was the last straw for McLaren’s Zak Brown and his main driver Fernando Alonso (comments below on who actually runs the team), the decision to drop Honda was made under the pretence that it was solely Honda’s fault the team weren’t winning.

In 2017, McLaren repeatedly claimed that their chassis was one of the best, let down by poor power and poor reliability from Honda. A claim now retracted by Zak Brown last weekend finally admitting: “Did we have the best chassis last year? No, definitely not.”.

Toro Rosso, the Red Bull junior team took on the Honda power unit, swopping their Renault supply to McLaren for 2018. McLaren claiming that the move had to happen after too many disappointing results with Honda since 2015 when the partnership began.

The aim of McLaren was to compete on a par with Red Bull Racing, a team with wins under their belt using the same Renault power.

Fast forward to 2018, and winter testing exposed some serious organisational problems at McLaren. Days lost out of the tight time allocation for testing at Barcelona – we saw Mclaren Renault flounder with poor reliability.

The irony of seeing Toro Rosso Honda pound out the most laps of any team wasn’t lost on many F1 fans.

Early results by Alonso once the season started actually were pretty good, race pace on Sunday being up there despite an obvious lack of speed on Saturday qualifying.

By Barcelona, the 5th race of the 2018 season, saw McLaren bring a huge aero update – most noticeable being the aggressive front nose. The update package was claimed to be the actual 2018 aero concept which was delayed and not used in the first four races.

Did the aero package given McLaren the pace they wanted? It certainly appears not, corroborated by more comments from Zak Brown last weekend.

“We don’t have the same level of downforce this year that we had last year,” said Brown.

“So we have identified an area in which our car this year is weaker than last year’s car.”

“Did we have the best chassis last year? No, definitely not.

“Did we have probably a better chassis? I think because of all the different variables it would be hard to definitively say yes or no, but we know we have less downforce this year than last year.”

“Realistically, this is going to take some time to fix, so I think we are years away,” said Brown.

Heads have rolled too, at the expense of Eric Boullier. Gil de Ferran has taken over as sporting director, promoting Andrea Stella to performance director and giving chief operating officer Simon Roberts overall responsibility for the car technically.

“We’re not done” – Zak Brown

“We’re ultimately working towards developing a faster racing team and a faster racing car, so I would not look at what we’ve announced as a finished product.”

“That is the starting point.”

Brown would not set a firm target for the rest of the season, but insisted the team has not given up on fourth in the constructors’ championship – currently held by Renault, 18 points ahead.

Well there is some evidence to suggest that McLaren might be doing a little better than we all thought, Silverstone showing us some encouraging evidence, despite being a ‘power circuit’ – a track where engine power dominates results.

Alonso finished the race in the points again, crucially ahead of the Honda powered Toro Rosso’s. Brendan Hartley had a torrid time, with issues throughout the weekend, and Gasly lamented their position using Honda power in qualifying:

“With the long straight at the moment it’s crazy how much time we lose. We knew that on a track like this with turn one and nine being flat we will struggle.”

“[We’re] talking about nine-tenths compared to Force India and Sauber so [it’s] just very difficult to fight. The car in the corners, looking at the GPS we are faster and looks pretty good, but just in the straight at the moment we are really slow.”

Sounds familiar?

Alonso had an enjoyable battle with Gasly, a battle the TV cameras missed, with Alonso eventually coming out on top.

During the race Alonso actually showed some impressive pace and actually it could be argued he had the 4th fastest car on track in the race in Silverstone.

Alonso was half a second faster than Renaults for some time when Alonso was in clear air. Of course different tyres will play a factor but consider Fernando’s car sustained heavy damage with contact from Perez on lap one, the Spaniard’s floor mangled hindering aero performance significantly.

BEFORE

AFTER

It’s worth noting that McLaren’s MCL33 aero is actually being copied up and down the pit lane too.

Ferrari is using a very similar McLaren 2017 front wing concept, nose pillars and now floor slots. Renault is using the nose pillars and have a copy of their rear wing, Mercedes also copying the rear wing.

Toro Rosso is using their nose pillars and brought an update some time back with McLaren like floor slots.

During the race at Silverstone, data suggests that without the issues of a damaged car and being pushed off track by Kevin Magnussen, Alonso could’ve have finished P6..

Between Lap 21 to lap 28, Alonso closed down a 6 second gap to Hulkenberg in the works Renault to 1.9 seconds. Alonso was 0.6 – 1 second faster than Hulkenberg.

Lap 28 is when Alonso caught up to Ocon and that slowed down his charge.

Between lap 21 to 27, he was on older medium tires veruss Ocon who was on fresh mediums and he was 0.5 seconds per lap faster than the Frenchman, and closed a 4 second gap to 0.5s seconds in 7 laps right before safety car.

This improved pace of the McLaren is perhaps enhanced by the high speed corners the clip above illustrates. At other circuits with low speed corners requiring good traction out of a turn, will perhaps be more of an Achilles heel for the MCL33.

Certainly the 2nd half of the season could be a good one for McLaren, and they should be the ones to watch out for pushing for 4th place in the constructors.

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