Formula One: Alonso's future in doubt

Fernando Alonso of McLaren team during the second day of the 2016 inaugural pre-season testing at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmelo, Barcelona.
Fernando Alonso of McLaren team during the second day of the 2016 inaugural pre-season testing at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmelo, Barcelona. PHOTO: EPA

If the new McLaren Honda car does not meet his expectations, he could end his F1 career

BARCELONA • On a day when embattled Honda surprised partners McLaren by announcing a change of leadership in their Formula One engine programme, the bigger question surrounded the future of Fernando Alonso.

It is understood that the second day of pre-season testing in Barcelona will help the two-time world champion judge whether the McLaren Honda car that he has been given for the 2016 season is good enough for him.

If it is not, Alonso could walk away from McLaren and F1.

 

Despite repeated assurances that he would see out his £75 million (S$148.8 million), three-year contract, the Spaniard is said to be demanding a massive improvement in the car's performance to convince him to stay.

Even the bookmakers are offering odds of 3-1 that Alonso will go before the end of the season.

The tempestuous driver's patience was tested to the limit last season in a McLaren that was F1's biggest embarrassment, culminating in the worst season of the British team's long and illustrious history. Alonso won his last championship in 2006 and, at 34, is running out of time to add a third.

He could be tipped over the edge if he believes that McLaren and Honda cannot provide him with a title-winning machine.

The first assessment of the MP4-31 came from Eric Boullier, McLaren's racing director, after Jenson Button had put the new car through its paces in Barcelona on Monday - and it was stark.

"Not good enough," Boullier told Sky Sports.

By the time the Frenchman faced journalists, he had moved his position to guarded optimism, perhaps realising that this was not the time to be downbeat. He decided that this car was already better than its 2015 predecessor - although that would not be difficult.

Button covered 84 solid if unspectacular laps - five more than in the whole first four days of testing last year.

Yesterday, Alonso logged 71 laps before lunch. However, the MP4-31 was still well short on speed as he was 10th fastest behind F1 newbies Haas and rookies Pascal Wehrlein in the Manor and Jolyon Palmer in the recently returned Renault.

McLaren Honda will at least attempt to make progress off the track. Honda yesterday said chief motorsport officer Yasuhisa Arai will step down at the end of the month and be replaced by Yusuke Hasegawa.

Honda press officers said the team had been informed only after a statement detailing a wider management restructuring of Japan's third-largest carmaker was issued by company headquarters yesterday. The move was aimed at bringing youth and diversity to the management team.

Hasegawa has previous experience in Formula One from Honda's time with the BAR and Jordan teams in the 1990s and 2000s.

"I need to catch up with what is going on," he said during testing at Circuit de Catalunya. "There are a lot of good people working very closely with McLaren so I don't think it will be a big problem."

Last season was the first of Honda's new partnership with McLaren, who have not won a race since 2012 and finished ninth of 10 teams.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'ALONSO'S FUTURE IN DOUBT'. Print Edition | Subscribe