Formula One: Alonso praises McLaren as Honda introduce engine upgrades

McLaren Honda's Fernando Alonso attends a press conference ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit on Aug 25, 2016.
McLaren Honda's Fernando Alonso attends a press conference ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit on Aug 25, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

(AFP) - Fernando Alonso has heaped praise on his McLaren Honda team, which is introducing upgraded engines at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, and described them as the best team of his career.

Two-time world champion Alonso and his team-mate Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, are both struggling to make any impression in this year's title race but the Spaniard insists there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

"We are in the right direction - the team is strong, the technical people we have. We are united. There is a good balance in the team, in the staff and in the design group," he said ahead of Formula One's return after a break during the European summer.

"For me, it's probably the best team I've been with in my career.

"We are not competitive now because we have had a lot of problems to solve from last year. We weren't ready to compete at this level and we had to make sure the reliability was in place, the power, drive-ability and aerodynamics.

"Everything had to change a lot and we had to find a direction. In terms of the team, the structure and the organisation, this is the best group that I've been working with."

Both Alonso and Button will run with upgraded power units this weekend, with Honda having given their approval for the use of new parts - and the spending of seven of the team's remaining 11 development tokens for this year.

The team will introduce tweaks to the combustion chamber, turbo and compressor and both drivers will have use of all the new components at a Spa circuit where engine power is a key factor.

The power unit changes for this weekend mean that Alonso has now taken his fifth and final permissible set of components for all six parts of his power unit.

Meanwhile, Alonso added that he believes the regulations overhaul for 2017 may give McLaren a chance to take a big step forward.

"If we stayed with the same regulations as this year, probably not, because even if we had the same power as Mercedes, Mercedes is clearly ahead of everyone in terms of aerodynamics and everything," he said.

"But the change opens up a hope for all of us, not just McLaren."

He said this season is best regarded as a transitional one, with 2017 "the priority".

"We are concentrated on being world champions, which requires a big improvement for next year. A lot of effort is being made this year for next year's car."

The identity of his team-mate for 2017 remains unconfirmed and, ahead of the Belgian race, McLaren racing director Eric Boullier said the decision will be made without allowing any emotions to interfere.

It boils down to a choice between Button and rising Belgian star Stoffel Vandoorne.

"We need to be rational about what we want to achieve at McLaren this year, next year and in the following years," he said.