Fernando Alonso has claimed his stunning Q1 time showed McLaren had the best car in Mexican GP qualifying.
Big grid penalties for both McLaren drivers this weekend made qualifying a largely academic exercise for the team but in the one session Alonso did complete, Q1, he set an eye-catching fifth-fastest time.
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More significantly, and surprisingly, his best lap was just 0.192s off the pace in Q1 set by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton on the same ultrasoft tyres. Alonso’s lap time was set despite his Honda-powered car giving away 12kph to the fastest runners through the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez’s speed trap.
And, engine-corrected, Alonso reckons McLaren’s chassis outperformed Mercedes’ latest title-winner.
“I think so [we had the best car] because we were two tenths from P1 in Q1. I did two laps which were identical,” he said after setting times of 1:17.803 and 1:17.710.
“We know where we lose and we know where we gain and we know if you are two tenths behind Mercedes it’s quite a long way in front of them.”
Ted Kravitz gives his thoughts on Saturday's qualifying session at the Mexican Grand Prix.
But the latest round of Honda engine changes mean that Alonso will start a more familiar distance behind Hamilton, with the Spaniard and team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne set to line up 18th and 19th respectively on Sunday.
Nonetheless, the Spaniard says he has been pleased by the performance of the MCL32 after also running in the top 10 on Friday. The team are switching to Renault power at the end of this season and the same engines used by Red Bull who nearly claimed pole in Mexico.
“The whole weekend we have been very competitive,” said Alonso. “We keep improving the car. We brought new updates to this race and they all delivered what we expected. So extremely happy with that. The car felt great today and very positive signs.”
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Alonso’s fastest lap included the quickest middle sector of Q1 and the Spaniard added: “It’s nice to have some reward to the hard effort the team is putting in to the last couple of races and the development of next year’s car.
“We’ve struggled with penalties in the last races – in the last seven, five we had penalties – but we never give up and we’re improving the car as much as we can. So happy with that.”
Honda ‘ashamed’ by latest penalties
Despite the Q1 plaudits and promise of their chassis, the harsh reality for Alonso and McLaren is that they are facing another race in which they start among the grid’s back two rows.
The team have now used 109 different Honda engine elements across their two cars this year – 50 more than any other team – with a 20-place penalty for Alonso and 35-place demotion for Vandoorne adding to a catalogue of such penalties.
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The Japanese supplier had picked Mexico as to best place to make necessary engine changes to see out the season, but have now admitted they had not expected McLaren’s package to be so competitive.
“[We are] very ashamed that we need to give another penalty for both drivers,” said Honda F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa.
“But from the last couple of race results we were not confident that one engine would finish the last three races so we thought that this is the opportunity we need to introduce new engines.
“Actually, we are very strong [at this track]. It was much better than we expected, but before the race our engine performance wasn’t very good here. That’s why we decided to get a penalty here.”
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