Fernando Alonso says he feels sorry for his "super talented" McLaren teammate Stoffel Vandoorne after he became the first driver to fall foul of an engine penalty in the 2017 Formula One season.
Stoffel Vandoorne has endured a torrid start to his first full-season in F1, having been dogged by extensive engine problems with his Honda power unit. His latest issue came during opening practice at the Russian Grand Prix, which led to McLaren changing the major power components in his MCL32 and subsequently incurring a 15-place grid drop for Sunday's race.
"On Stoffel's side of the garage they had to change a few parts, so I think he will get a grid penalty, but it's incredible you get a penalty already in the fourth race," Alonso said. "I feel sorry for him, because he's a super driver, a super talent but he's having a difficult start of his Formula One career, so I hope he gets a lucky break even if he'll start from the back of the grid. Maybe we'll be both close to the points at the end of the race."
Alonso enjoyed a trouble-free day on Friday in Russia, getting within 0.2s of a place in the top ten during second practice, albeit 2.6s down on Sebastian Vettel's best time. The Spaniard believes McLaren could be set for another tough weekend, considering the power-hungry nature of the Sochi Autodrom.
"I think the car is the same as Bahrain so definitely still a lot of room to improve for tomorrow for us," Alonso said. "Let's see tomorrow. This is the fourth power effect circuit of the championship so we don't expect big miracles here.
"I think it's going to be an interesting weekend in terms of what we can achieve here. So far nothing has changed, we're having difficult races and the results don't reflect the feeling we get inside the car or reward the good races we have done."
Despite the disappointing start to the season and three retirements, Alonso insists he is driving better now than at any time previously in his career.
"I put always the same energy, which is all I have," he said. "I think I never drove as well as I'm driving this year, I keep saying that since Australia, but I haven't finished any race yet. I feel well with myself and can only wait for Honda to bring us a more competitive engine."