Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso reckons his McLaren-Honda team are in better shape now than a year ago — but has warned fans not to expect a dramatic upsurge in results starting with this weekend’s 2016 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
The 2006 Melbourne race winner, who was absent last year, made his first public appearance in the city on Thursday morning when he drove up to the doors of the Hilton South Wharf in Honda’s new Civic.
He was the first man to drive the new model on Australian soil, but he said he has no realistic expectations of being the first man to take the chequered flag in Sunday’s season-opening race.
“We have found a good baseline now, but we have to learn a lot more. We have made a step forward,” said the 34-year-old Spaniard. “But we have a lot more to do. We will see where we are on Saturday…”
After a miserable 2015 in which Honda made a much-heralded return to F1® as McLaren’s power suppliers, the team and Alonso are in more pragmatic and realistic mood than 12 months ago.
The 2005 and 2006 world champion is now one of the sport’s most respected and experienced drivers and, in a thought-provoking news conference, offered several interesting views.
Among many, he said he felt the updated clampdown on radio communications and the introduction of progressive elimination in qualifying will, in his view, make little impact this weekend.
"I don't think it's going to change much," added Alonso. “There is quite a limited amount of things we can talk about over the radio or the information we can receive from the team.
"We can talk as much as we want, but, I guess, with no answers.”
He also dismissed the idea that the changes will give the drivers a chance to work harder and use more of their individual racing instincts.
"We have had that possibility before,” he said. “That instinct of feeling something in a race, when something is happening. We tried to input to the strategy, or give information, but now we can’t have that conversation and we’ll miss it.
"Instead of instinct from the driver, I think we will follow what is agreed two hours before the race...."