Honda F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has conceded that the Chinese GP will be “more challenging” than Australia for McLaren, with Shanghai International Circuit’s long straights expected to expose the weakness of the power unit.
Despite big promises made over the winter, Honda has struggled to build a competitive engine for this season - its third in Formula 1 since return.
Stoffel Vandoorne was the last of the classified finishers in Melbourne, while teammate Fernando Alonso retired from the race after running in top 10 for much of the duration.
While McLaren is bringing minor upgrades to the Chinese GP, Hasegawa has warned that the outfit is likely to be further off the pace than it was already in Australia.
“Although the season opener in Australia was a tough race weekend for us, it allowed us to judge our current position on track,” Hasegawa said.
“There were both positives and negatives to take away. We were able to confirm certain reliabilities on our power unit, but we also know that we still have room for improvement when it comes to performance.
“We expect the Chinese Grand Prix to be even more challenging. The race is always a bit of an unknown due to the changeable weather conditions, which affects the set-up and balance of the car.
“The track itself also places a lot of stress on the power unit with its slow- and medium-speed corners, and two very long straights. The key will be preparation and set-up.”
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier expects his team to be closer to its rivals, but is braced for a difficult result.
“Shanghai is known to be an unpredictable weekend for a number of reasons: it’s tough on cars, tyres and power units and the weather is often precarious, but I can predict that we won’t be as fortuitous with our pace, compared to our rivals, as we were in Australia,” Boullier said.
“The characteristics of the Shanghai International Circuit are very different from Melbourne, and its long, fast straights will likely expose the weaknesses in our package more than Albert Park did.
“However, we will of course attack the race with our usual fighting spirit, and the most important thing will be to ensure reliability with both cars before focusing on performance,” he added.
by Rachit Thukral