MELBOURNE, Australia -- McLaren's engine supplier Honda is confident it has introduced successful fixes to the reliability issues it experienced during testing, but admits a performance upgrade is still some way off.
Fernando Alonso qualified 13th in the McLaren-Honda at the season's opening qualifying session, but teammate Stoffel Vandoorne had to settle for 18th after experiencing a fuel flow issue during Q1. The result represents a step forward from pre-season testing, where the team struggled with reoccurring reliability issues, but is still short of the team's ultimate targets of challenging for wins.
"The problem that we had in the testing, every single reason [for the problems] we tried to modify the engine, but from the performance point of view we are still struggling to extract more power from the engine," Honda boss Yusuke Hasegawa said. "Actually it is different from the test situation. But I hope reliability issue was fixed already."
Asked how quickly more Honda could bring more performance to its power unit, Hasegawa added: "I cannot guarantee when we can get the power, but as soon as possible of course we will try to introduce a new specification for that.
"But it is not a one-day job. In a month's time or two weeks' time I would like to try, but I cannot guarantee here. As soon as I can prepare that I am happy to introduce that."
Stories in recent weeks have linked McLaren to a switch to Mercedes power, possibly as a temporary measure while Honda resolves its issues. But McLaren racing director Eric Boullier was not willing to comment on the reports.
"Rumours are rumours and I guess our performance, especially during our testing sessions, have created such rumours," he said. "Obviously we are looking at every option to recover and catch up because we are definitely not in the position that we expected to be and wanted to be.
"So with Honda we are working hard on this and testing was obviously not very good and still today we can see that our pace is not good enough. But we are working together."
Hasegawa added: "Also the same, the rumour is just a rumour. After the winter test we are having a strong pressure from the team and from the driver, but we keep improving. We try to keep improving. And of course a second team, we try to have some conversation but nothing is fixed."
McLaren also confirmed that the cars of Alonso and Vandoorne were running in different specifications.
"Yes, we have decided to keep Stoffel's car on Barcelona spec and give new spec to Fernando for strategic reasons," Boullier said. "But treatment is equal before the rumours start."