By JOSEPH WILSON, AP
MONTMELO, Spain- Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.
Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.
What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.
Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.
“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months . and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”
This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.
One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.
After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.
For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.
“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.
“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.
“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”
Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.
McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.
“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”
The opening test will run through Thursday.
The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.