Bahrain GP: Eric Boullier stunned by McLaren's qualifying performance
Alonso and Vandoorne out in Q2 and behind both Toro Rossos; "There is need for a big investigation... I'm astonished," says Boullier
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 08/04/18 4:42pm
McLaren chief Eric Boullier has admitted he was astonished by the team's inability to challenge for a top-10 starting berth for the Bahrain GP and demanded an investigation into their performance.
McLaren have brought an extensive upgrade for their car this weekend, sparking optimism they could challenge the frontrunners this weekend after Fernando Alonso finished fifth in the season-opening Australian GP.
But Alonso could only qualify 13th in Bahrain, a place ahead of team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne. Perhaps of greater concern, Alonso's fastest lap was over two seconds shy of Sebastian Vettel's pole position time.
"There is need for a big investigation," said Boullier to Sky Sports F1. "We need to find out what is going on.
"We need to find out why and I am going to ask some questions to the factory. I'm astonished like all of us on the pit wall. We need to understand what happened."
Boullier was later absent from McLaren's media summit as he attended an extended engineering debrief.
Alonso, who was 11th in qualifying in Australia, said: "It was a bad surprise. We didn't expect to be that far back.
"It was a poor performance from us. We are definitely not happy."
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The Spaniard added: "Definitely a little bit worse than expectations. We thought we would be challenging for Q3. But we realised in Q1 we were not competitive.
"The nature of the circuit is far from ideal for our car. We came here looking at last year's performance and it was not great, it was one of the worst performances. Unfortunately we saw again that this is a circuit we do not have into our hands yet in terms of approach or set-up. That's something we need to keep analysing, but the new parts on the car work fine."
So why are McLaren struggling?
Alonso said in Australia that he expected the team to improve in every race through the rest of 2018. The team are playing catch up after the late switch from Honda power to Renault and struggled for reliability in winter testing.
Boullier has conceded the team were too ambitious in their design for their 2018 car, the MCL33, pushing too hard and too fast in their attempt to join Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull at the front.
"We are slightly behind," Boullier admitted to Sky Sports. "We have a development curve which is very high and we have a lot coming in the next races.
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"But I think we have been too ambitious. We have not been able to deliver all the parts and upgrades we wanted at the first race so we are currently two races behind.
"We wanted to develop to keep the philosophy of the car with the development of the new PU. We arrived not prepared enough in Barcelona [for winter testing] and had reliability issues."
But Alonso expressed confidence that upgrades currently being worked on at the team's Woking base would ultimately make a significant difference to the MCL33's performance.
"We know our weakness, we know where we have to improve the car," he said. "The car we have here at the track and the car we are developing at the factory is different.
"That car is fixing all our weakness so we need to bring that car as soon as possible as some of the teams brought here and they made a huge step forward. We are missing that step forward at the moment.
Can they recover in Sunday's grand prix?
The glimmer of hope for McLaren is that their race pace in Australia was far superior to their single-lap form and Alonso remained hopeful the team can challenge for points in Bahrain.
"We look after the rear tyres quite well and hopefully that can be an advantage in the race," the two-time world champion said.
"The one lap performance is not yet optimised. We can't extract the maximum from the tyres over the first lap. The long run has always been better than the one lap and we need to understand why."
Both Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne finished in the points in Melbourne despite missing the top 10 on Saturday and the Spaniard added: "We are not in a position to start the race that is ideal, but we were not in Q3 in Australia either and both cars were in the points on Sunday so we can repeat that."
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