Despite the whole team’s best efforts, the inaugural race around the demanding Baku City Circuit was a disappointing one for McLaren-Honda.
Jenson drove a customarily disciplined race to move from an unrepresentative 19th on the grid to finish 11th, making solid progress through the field – particularly during the final stint. While he raced nose-to-tail with Fernando for much of the race, the Spaniard lost ground with a gearbox issue, that caused him to retire on lap 42.
Despite the lack of points, today’s was a commendable team effort: the strategists weaved both cars through the field on a useful two-stop strategy, while our mechanics completed all four pit-stops in under three seconds.
Fernando Alonso #14 MP4-31-04Started 13th Finished DNF – gearbox Fastest lap 1m49.101s on lap 27 (+2.616s, 18th) Pit-stops Two: lap 5 (2.51s) and 24 (2.69s) [Option/Prime/Prime]
“This was always going to be a difficult race for us – and that’s made even more difficult when you don’t see the chequered flag.
“We had a developing issue on the gearbox which was getting worse and worse, so we decided to retire the car in order to prevent damage to the power unit or anything else. It’s a shame, but we were running outside the points, so this retirement feels a little less painful.
“The most important thing now is for the team to find a little more pace – for both qualifying and the race.”
Jenson Button #22 MP4-31-03Started 19th Finished 11th Fastest lap 1m47.622s on lap 50 (+1.137s, 10th) Pit-stops Two: lap 6 (2.46s) and 25 (2.93s) [Option/Prime/Prime]
“Obviously, I didn’t make it easy for myself starting 19th. I enjoyed the race, and I got everything out of the car, but that was all we could really do as we didn’t have the pace this weekend.
“I’m happy with my performance today. In terms of strategy, it was difficult to know the best way to go, but we’d struggled with graining on the Supersoft, so chose to pit relatively early. Then our pace was good on the Prime – I’m happy with that. It was also good to battle out there, especially when the other guy has the same equipment as you.
“In terms of outright performance, we’re not quite quick enough, so to come from 19th to 11th wasn’t too bad, particularly with the straight-line speed we had here.
“It was a fun race and I enjoyed it, but there are some improvements needed to raise our level of performance. I persevered as I always do when times are tough, and we’ll hopefully come out the other side.”
Eric Boullier, McLaren-Honda Racing Director
“After a second successive grand prix finishing just one position outside the points, there’s little to sweeten the pill after this disappointing pair of flyaway races.
“However, let’s be pragmatic about the positives: from 19th on the grid, Jenson drove with his customary blend of calm control and gritty resolution to carve measuredly through the field to finish 11th. He managed to cut the gap to Felipe Massa by five seconds in the last dozen laps, but wasn’t close enough to challenge for that last, solitary point by flag-fall.
“In addition, our strategists devised strong race-plans for both drivers, which, allied to four supremely efficient pit-stops from our boys, enabled both drivers to run strongly in the midfield for the entire race. While our travails went unrewarded with world championship points, we can be satisfied with the job we did out there.
“Finally, Fernando had little good fortune today. He was increasingly hamstrung by a gearbox problem, prompting the team to retire the car.
“It’s clear that we need just a little more inherent pace to become consistent top 10 runners, so we’ll be aiming to narrow that gap when we return to Europe, for the Austrian Grand Prix, at the start of next month.”
Yusuke Hasegawa, Honda R&D Co Ltd Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer
“We had good race pace today, and I think we did the best we could to pull the potential out of the car. However, it’s difficult to be happy when you just miss out on points for two races in a row, finishing P11 on each occasion.
“The race itself was less chaotic than expected, with all of the cars starting from the front of the grid finishing the race unscathed. That meant we were unable to capitalise on any incidents, and our position remained again within the mid-field.
“Though we were fearful of the long straights pre-race, we remained in the hunt thanks to the low downforce rear wing setting we adopted for this weekend.
“Unfortunately, Fernando had a developing gearbox problem, and could not maintain his pace in the latter part of the race, so we had to retire the car to prevent any further issues.”