Fernando Alonso admits McLaren is set to “suffer” at the Japanese Grand Prix as it continues trying to ensure it learns from its mistakes with this year’s car.
McLaren’s relative performance has dropped off significantly since the start of the season, with a return of 40 points from the opening five races being added to with just 18 more in the 11 rounds that have followed. After a McLaren finished at the bottom of the times in each of the two Friday practice sessions at Suzuka, Alonso says the team has been taking a different approach during the second half of the season in order to try and improve next year.
“Basically, since Hungary we’ve been trying new things and making sure the car works correctly, but many times that hasn’t been the case,” Alonso said. “There are many occasions in which we know we have a problem in a certain area of the car or in the aerodynamic balance, so we’ve been using Fridays as data gathering and testing days to prepare next year’s car.
“It’s a bit more frustrating as you’re lapping in not ideal conditions, but it’s good information for the team and I think that for tomorrow we’ll see exactly where we are.”
Alonso — who downplayed a big spin at Degner 1 during FP1 — is optimistic wet weather on Saturday could make McLaren more competitive but warns the team needs to keep its expectations in check even if there are mixed conditions in qualifying.
“Let’s hope there’s a bit of rain tomorrow — that would be the best thing for us, but I’m not saying we’re going to make a big leap in the wet. We were also hoping for rain in Hungary; it came but we didn’t even make it into Q3.
“We’ll see tomorrow, but what seems clear is that in dry conditions we’ll suffer — it’s going to be a weekend where we won’t be too competitive.”
This weekend marks the final time Alonso will race at Suzuka in F1 after announcing his retirement from the category at the end of the season, and he admits it’s a venue he will miss.
“The circuit always feels amazing with these cars. I’ll definitively miss this track, as it’s one of the best weekends of the year, on and off the track. I’ll come back as a fan and will enjoy it with the fans in the grandstands.”