Montmelo: Just when McLaren had nowhere to go but up, they sunk to a new low on Friday when Fernando Alonso’s first lap of practice for the Spanish Grand Prix ended in a puff of smoke and a pool of engine fluid.
White smoke enveloped the two-time former champion when his McLaren spun out of a turn and into the gravel at the start of the morning session at the Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya.
McLaren’s team radio told him to “stop the car, stop the car, engine problem” as liquid dripped from the underside of the vehicle.
The drip turned into a gushing pour of yellowish liquid when a crane lifted the McLaren away from the track.
By then, Alonso was being ferried back to the paddock on the back of a scooter, meekly waving to some of the local fans who had come to give the Spaniard a much needed boost.
Alonso apologised to his supporters for the no-go, and put the blame on Honda, the maker of the McLaren’s troubled motor.
“It’s a question for Honda. The engine blew up after one corner,” Alonso told Sky F1 television. “It’s tough, but tougher for McLaren, who bring updates trying to find a millisecond here and there and we cannot even run.”
Less than two hours later, Alonso posted a photo on Twitter of him playing paddle tennis with the message, “Keeping the body active,” before returning to the track before the afternoon session.
Alonso and McLaren are having a wretched 2017. After showing some progress with their Honda engine last year, the team has taken a huge step back with neither Alonso nor new teammate Stoffel Vandoorne yet to score a point.
Alonso didn’t finish any of the four races. He endured the embarrassment of having to abandon the Russian GP last round when his car broke down on the formation lap.
And despite two weeks to work on their car, McLaren have made no progress.
The latest blow comes a day after Alonso issued an ultimatum: either McLaren gives him a competitive car by October of he will look to change teams or even consider leaving F1. Alonso has already decided to try his luck at the Indianapolis 500 instead of the Monaco GP later this month.
The rest of the opening practice saw Mercedes register the top two times under sunny skies in northeastern Spain following Thursday’s showers.
Sporting a new funky nose to its Silver Arrows, Lewis Hamilton clocked a fastest lap of 1 minute, 21.521 seconds, with Vatteri Bottas only 0.029 seconds slower.
Ferrari pair Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were third and fourth, about a second slower than Hamilton.
F1 leader Vettel also had a mishap early on, when what he suspected to be an issue with his gearbox forced him to stop coming out of pit lane. After marshals rolled him back to his garage, his mechanics quickly fixed the problem and he went back out.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, who won the race last year, and Daniel Ricciardo were next, within 1.6 seconds of Hamilton.