Fernando Alonso 'optimistic' of strong Austrian GP as Honda bring engine upgrade
'Spec Three' power unit to be run on both McLaren cars in Austria, Alonso hopes to build on Baku points-finish.
By James Galloway and Jonathan Green
Last Updated: 03/07/17 7:30pm
Honda plan to race their upgraded engine at this weekend's Austrian GP, leaving McLaren hopeful of a more competitive showing in F1's midfield.
One month after Zak Brown said Honda "seem a bit lost" with their F1 programme in the wake of an anticipated engine upgrade not materialising for Canada, the Japanese manufacturer are now ready to fully introduce their latest upgrade - the Spec Three - on Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne's cars, after final checks at their factory.
Alonso trialled the new engine in Friday practice in Azerbaijan, with Honda later reporting lap-time gains of around 0.3 seconds on the Baku circuit.
"At the previous round in Azerbaijan, we were able to bank our first points of the year and I think it brought some brightness into our team," said Honda F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa.
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"We also tested the updated PU [power unit], the Spec Three, with Fernando on Friday and we were able to confirm some progress in terms of the power output.
"We have proceeded with the mapping back at the factory utilising the data we collected, and we are going to bring the Spec Three for both drivers this weekend.
"I think we have some improvements in our competitiveness and I am looking forward to seeing our performance in Austria."
Hasegawa did add a note of caution by conceding that the altitude of the Red Bull Ring - it sits 2,297ft above sea level, making it the third-highest circuit on the calendar - will create an extra challenge for the turbocharger and energy deployment efficiency.
Nonetheless, McLaren enjoyed one of their stronger weekends of the year in Austria in 2016, when Jenson Button qualified third in drying conditions and then finished sixth in the dry race.
Alonso hopeful of strong performance
Two-time world champion Alonso is "optimistic" McLaren can follow up scoring their first points of the season with a strong performance this weekend.
Following their worst start to a season, Alonso finally got McLaren off the mark in the Constructors' Championship with a ninth-place finish at the Azerbaijan GP.
With the upgraded Honda engine and the Red Bull Ring being less power dependent than other circuits on the calendar, Alonso is hopeful he will be able to put in a competitive performance.
"I really enjoyed my race in Baku," Alonso said. "Our performance in the race not only showed that the foundations of our car package are strong, but also that our operational team - our mechanics, engineers and strategists - are all racers, poised and waiting to take advantage of any situation.
"Two points may have been a small consolation after an extremely tough weekend, but, as I said at the time, we'll take it and use it to drive us forwards.
"And there are reasons to feel more optimistic about our weekend in Austria. It's a circuit that's not as dependent on power as some of the recent races, and I think our car will be better suited to the twists and turns of the Spielberg circuit. I think we'll be able to push hard."
Alonso has yet to finish the Austrian GP since re-joining McLaren, but did finish fifth in 2014 in his final season with Ferrari.
Vandoorne's wait to score a point continues after his 12th-place finish in Baku but the Belgian hopes the team can use Alonso's result to build momentum
"Scoring points in the last race was very good for the whole team's motivation and morale, and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to make further progress in Austria," he said.
"We've been bringing upgrades to every race, so a problem-free weekend, at a circuit that doesn't disadvantage us, would really allow us to gain some momentum.
"Of course, we're still some way off where we want to be, but a respectable result in Austria would really give the team an added boost."
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