McLaren are playing catch-up after a wheel nut failure wrote off Fernando Alonso’s opening morning of Formula One pre-season testing in Barcelona.
The British team headed into Monday’s first winter test brimming with optimism after ditching their beleaguered engine supplier Honda and teaming up with Renault for 2018.
But there was a sadly all-too familiar story for the Woking marque after Alonso, 36, spun into the gravel when his right-rear wheel detached from his McLaren.
Alonso, who had completed six laps with the session just 37 minutes old, emerged unscathed from the incident before crouching down to examine his stricken car and walking back to the garage.
Track time is imperative in testing with only eight days of running before the new campaign gets under way in Melbourne on March 25. The weather could also play a role in Spain with sleet and rain forecast for later in the week.
Although Alonso returned to the circuit later in the day to take his lap count to 51, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who set the fastest time, managed more than a century of circuits, while Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, second fastest on the time sheets, and team-mate Lewis Hamilton completed 83 laps between them.
All eyes are on McLaren this season following their underwhelming displays in recent years. Naturally, they moved to play down Alonso’s early failure, but it is hardly the start they would have wanted.
“It was a very, very small problem, but very graphic and very obvious because a car in the gravel is a big thing,” Alonso said.
“But there are six teams in the garage with the doors closed and the cars in pieces, but no one sees that. There is no picture of that.
“There are a lot of teams in big trouble, but us with a wheel nut failure, that will make the story.
“We didn’t plan to run much in the morning so it won’t cost us and the failure was not a handicap. I did the most laps in the afternoon and others had issues.”
Alonso, the double world champion who extended his McLaren deal in October, managed only one lap on the opening morning last year due to reliability issues. He then failed to finish more than half the races he contested during a miserable campaign.
McLaren, a winner of 20 combined drivers’ and constructors’ championships, have failed to win a grand prix in six years, have not been on the podium since 2014 and finished next to bottom in last year’s standings.
Zak Brown, McLaren’s American executive director said: “All the teams will have a variety of issues throughout testing and we lost very little time so it is not a big deal.
“This team is used to public pressure and having eyes on us. We thrive on stepping up to the plate so we are not feeling any more pressure than we already put on ourselves.
“We are working hard and we have not set targets for specific race finishes, but we want to be competitive and that is our goal.
“Whether that is one podium, five podiums, or no podiums, it will all depend on what the rest of the teams do. We expect to be racing at the front of the field.”
Ricciardo set the pace ahead of Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on day one. Hamilton, who took over testing duties from Bottas after the lunch break, finished fifth in the order as conditions worsened in the afternoon.