McLaren-Honda came into the Monaco Grand Prix hoping to possibly challenge Ferrari and at least be the fourth-best team around the Monte Carlo Formula 1 track. Rivals such as Williams’s Felipe Massa felt this was too optimistic, and McLaren ultimately struggled for speed in Monaco, despite finishing fifth and ninth in the race.
Fernando Alonso qualified 10th, behind the Ferraris, Toro Rossos and Force Indias, while teammate Jenson Button was also beaten by Valtteri Bottas’s Williams and Esteban Gutierrez’s Haas on Saturday.
The wet conditions of race day, strong strategy and problems for rivals allowed Alonso to claim an unlikely result, but the team was still not satisfied.
“I’m not excited; I’m not celebrating,” said racing director Eric Boullier, who still reiterated his belief that McLaren has the third-best chassis in F1 on certain circuits. “We just did the job – we have good drivers, this is a good team, we did a good strategy, so it’s a good reward for the guys.
“But McLaren’s ambition is to win. It’s good to get the points and to have taken the opportunity, but this is the least you expect from us. We need to keep working. We were expecting to be a little bit more competitive this weekend.”
Alonso ultimately finished more than a minute behind Sebastian Vettel’s fourth placed Ferrari in Monaco, but Boullier argued this gap was unrepresentative.
“You have to be careful because we managed our tires,” he explained. “If you go back through the race you will see JB was on his own, so he could push more and he was a couple of seconds faster than Fernando. Fernando was just managing his pace to make sure the tires were lasting until the end. The gap between Vettel and us is not the real one.”
McLaren does not believe its car was fundamentally slower than expected in Monaco, but the drivers struggled to get the tires working properly throughout the weekend, particularly the fronts, so suffered badly with understeer.
It’s believed the problem relates to McLaren’s aerodynamic philosophy, which is to pursue downforce with a minimal drag penalty to mitigate for the performance deficit of the Honda engine. Monaco is a circuit where drag is not an issue, but McLaren is not prepared to alter its philosophy just to be competitive at one track.
The team did not bring a Monaco-specific aero package, so lacked downforce compared to the top cars and therefore struggled to get the sensitive Pirelli tires into their correct working temperature range.
McLaren cannot afford to add less efficient downforce unless the Honda engine improves substantially. Honda has yet to confirm when it will spend more development tokens to further improve the performance of its power unit, but in the meantime McLaren is having to compromise with its chassis to exploit what is there. That’s why a race that should have suited McLaren ultimately proved a struggle.