BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The sight of two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso pushing his car uphill after it stalled during Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday summed up McLaren’s chronic lack of reliability this season.
The much-heralded switch back to Honda engines has proved far more difficult than anticipated, with both Alonso and 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button struggling in qualifying and on race day.
As the season reaches its halfway point, Button, who failed to make Q2, has completed only four of nine races so far, with a best finish of eighth at the Monaco GP.
Alonso, who missed the season-opening race in Australia to recover from a concussion sustained in preseason testing, has retired from five of eight races with a best of 10th place.
Alonso, who starts Sunday’s race from 15th place on the grid, sounds almost resigned to his fate.
“It’s not frustrating anymore, because we know what we’re doing, and the phase we have to go through together this year,” the Spaniard said. “There will probably be worse races coming with circuits that will not suit our car. We try to learn from the problems that we’re facing now and try not to repeat them.”
McLaren’s pace has been improving in recent races, but both drivers are very much at the mercy of the car’s temperamental reliability.
Button qualified in 16th place after losing power near the end of Q1, while racing director Eric Boullier said “a harness connection coming loose” led to Alonso’s problem.
Alonso, ever the competitor despite not winning a race for more than two years, quickly jumped out and started to push the vehicle uphill on his own.
The car moved agonizingly slowly as Alonso toiled in the Hungaroring heat before being helped in his quest to get back to the garage by four race marshals.
“This shows how much I love my sport,” said Alonso, who won the last of his 32 races with Ferrari at the Spanish GP in May 2013. “It doesn’t matter if you’re last, if you’re 15, or you’re in pole position, you want to drive your car and enjoy it out there.”
Reuniting McLaren and Honda rekindled memories of one of the most successful and powerful partnerships in F1 history from 1988-92.
In 1988 alone, the team won a staggering 15 of 16 races that season, with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost behind the wheel.
But the team’s problems were clear early on this year, as it registered the fewest laps of any team this preseason with just 210.
A summer break follows this race, and McLaren will have a new engine and power unit ready in time for the Belgium GP in Spa in three weeks’ time.
“We have a pain these days. It’s not where we want to be and where we should be,” Boullier said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to be possible to keep everybody happy, but we’re as honest and transparent as we can.”
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.