Fernando Alonso is poised to start Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix from the back of the grid as a result of the latest in a series of engine penalties.
McLaren’s engine partner Honda is planning an engine upgrade for Alonso at this weekend’s race at Monza.As the Spaniard had already used more than his permitted number of engine parts, it means an automatic penalty.
The idea is to ensure Alonso is in a strong position for the following race in Singapore, which favours McLaren.
Honda has not admitted to the plan, saying it has not yet decided on its engine policy for Monza, but BBC Sport has confirmed the strategy with team insiders.
It is not yet clear whether the engine Alonso will use at Monza is the ‘Phase Four’ specification that Honda had initially planned for Belgium.
It was not ready in time, so the company introduced an interim spec known as the ‘Phase 3.5’, which featured improvements to the induction system that Honda said equated to a lap-time gain of about 0.1secs.
But the Honda still lags a reputed 80bhp on the customer Mercedes engines used by Williams and Force India.
Monza is the track where engine performance is most important in terms of overall lap time, so it is inevitably going to be a difficult race for McLaren, whose Honda engine is the least powerful on the grid.
By contrast, tight and twisty Singapore is a race where the high quality of McLaren’s chassis can come to the fore and the team are expecting a decent points score.
Alonso finished sixth at the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of July, held on a similarly low power-sensitivity track.
The 36-year-old two-time champion hinted at the plan to give him a new engine in Monza when speaking after qualifying in Belgium last weekend.
There, his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne helped him by providing a ‘tow’ on the straights to minimise the Honda’s power deficit as much as possible.
Although Alonso also ‘towed’ Vandoorne in the first part of qualifying, the Belgian’s performance in second qualifying was compromised to benefit Alonso because Vandoorne already had 60 places of grid penalties, 55 of which were for engine changes.
Alonso said: “We had it planned. Next week it will be the other way around because it’s my turn. We were trying to take advantage of the penalties, we have to find a positive and try to do the best for the team.”
F1 engine rules dictate that each driver can only use four of the six constituent parts that make up an engine during a season.
Alonso has already used six internal combustion engines and MGU-Ks, the part that recovers energy from the rear axle, and eight turbochargers and MGU-Hs, the part that recovers energy from the turbo.