Fernando Alonso must already be counting down the days until the Indianapolis 500, given how frustrating Formula 1 has become for the Spaniard while Honda are struggling to understand their power unit and its numerous flaws.
Stoffel Vandoorne also suffered a failure on Friday, while Alonso’s engine failed early into qualifying on for the Bahrain Grand Prix, pushing him to 15th place on the grid for race.
Neither Alonso nor his teammate Vandoorne scored a point in the first two races of the season. With the Belgian driver two places behind Alonso on the grid, that is unlikely to change here.
“It will be a long, hot and difficult one for both our drivers,” McLaren’s race director Eric Boullier said. “But that’s the hand they’ve currently been dealt, and they’ll play it as best they can.”
McLaren struggled all of last season after switching back to Honda engines, finishing sixth in the constructors’ championship and with no podium finishes for the once-dominant team.
Alonso had looked reasonably secure in the first part of qualifying, and was about to start the second part on Saturday – known as Q2 – when he climbed out of his car and called it quits.
“It was already a hard race, but this makes it even harder,” the 35-year-old Alonso said. “We have to change the power unit and without the chance to calibrate the engine a bit we will probably not run the race with all the power available, which is already little.”
Alonso’s engineers face a difficult task in getting the car in decent shape.
“The first lap the engine gets will be the formation lap, so it won’t get any warm-up. We won’t get any laps to tune it, and we’ll probably therefore have an even tougher race than we’d expected,” Alonso said.
“The guys in the garage work day and night to prepare the car, there are parts we keep changing, we keep testing the updates.
“There’s hard work behind every weekend, but we don’t have a competitive power unit to fight at the front. It’s not the ideal situation, but there’s nothing we can do just now,” added Alonso.
Honda chief Yusuke Hasegawa commented at the end of the second day, “Unfortunately this afternoon in qualifying we had to end Fernando’s Q2 session prematurely after detecting an MGU-H issue.”
“We are still investigating to find out exactly what the issue is and whether or not it’s related to Stoffel’s issues yesterday,” he added with reference to Vandoorne’s stoppage a day earlier.”
When pressed for more details, Hasegawa explained, “We are not sure the exact cause, but definitely a mechanical failure of the MGU-H. It is something around the bearings, it was sticking. They are all dead so we have to replace.”
“We’re not sure why it happened just here three times, but we are suspecting something happened in this environment. Possibly because the temperatures are very high,” added the Japanese engineer.
Under race rules, drivers are allowed four engines per season before they incur penalty points, and this is already Alonso’s second one heading into the third of 20 races.
Alonso – whose last win was four years ago in Spain – will actually need to start getting some points before having any to lose.