McLaren fitted an updated Honda power unit to both of their Formula One cars for the Belgian Grand Prix in hopes of catching up to the rest of the field. However, a water leak in first practice forced them to swap units again in Fernando Alonso’s car. Today, that new power unit only made it about 500 meters in qualifying. Total.
Alonso’s first upgraded engine only made it three laps during the first practice session at Spa-Francorchamps before the team found a water leak from the car’s Energy Recovery System, reports ESPN. So, for second practice, they swapped in yet another of the new-spec power units after determining that the issue wasn’t the result of anything that had been changed.
Competitors are only allowed to use five of each of the six major engine component in a season, per Formula One: internal combustion engine (ICE), motor generator units (MGU-H and MGU-K for heat and kinetic energy, respectively), turbo, energy store, and control electronics. Thus, this swap meant that Alonso was on his sixth component for everything on the list, giving him a 35-place grid drop before qualifying even began.
But wait! There’s more misery.
During qualifying, Fernando Alonso’s car came to a halt at Raidillon, leaving him without a time. He told ESPN that the car “only did 500 meters” in the entire session.
After he was out of the car, Alonso told ESPN that they saw a problem with his new power unit after the last free practice session, but didn’t have time to figure out what that was:
We need more investigations [to understand the issue]. We saw a problem in FP3 and we need time before qualifying to do a proper investigation.
As he did not set a time, stewards had to grant him permission to compete tomorrow.
Alonso is in good company at the back of the grid. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson will receive a ten-place grid penalty for taking on a new turbo, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton will take on a 55-place penalty in order to replace (and thus, stockpile) components on his engine, per Fox Sports.
UPDATE [1:10 p.m.]: Honda confirmed that they will be installing a third engine in Alonso’s car, reports Motorsport.com. The second engine failure was the result of low oil pressure, according to Honda F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa:
This morning we saw some low oil pressure, so we had to stop the session. We checked the data, and we adjusted the oil pressure.
We thought we could do it, and take a risk to join qualifying. Actually my judgement was a mistake and it was not good, so we have to change the engine for tomorrow.
Naturally, this will add to Alonso’s grid penalty. It’s a race to the bottom, folks! Which world champion will incur the most grid penalties at Spa?
UPDATE #2 [4:40 p.m.]: McLaren will be swapping Alonso’s turbocharger, internal combustion engine, MGU-H and MGU-K to get ready for tomorrow’s race, per Autosport. This brings his total grid penalty total to 60 places—almost three times the size of the field!
Fortunately, Alonso seems to be taking it in stride:
I mean, it’s a new record. Might as well embrace it.