• Malaysian GP - Qualifying

Honda halfway up a 'high mountain'

Laurence Edmondson in Sepang
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Honda has used the analogy of being half way up a "high mountain" with its work on its new power unit after McLaren qualified on the second to last row at the Malaysian Grand Prix.

With the exception of Manor on the very last row, the McLaren-Hondas were the slowest cars on the circuit, although there were signs of progress compared to the team's performance in Melbourne two weeks ago. Factoring in the tyre choices in both qualifying sessions, McLaren believes it has gained 1.6s on Mercedes at the very front of the pack, although the overall deficit is still close to 2.5s.

The team has been running its engines detuned in order to complete the necessary mileage at races this year and Honda boss Yasuhisa Arai admitted there was still a long way to go before extracting the new power unit's full potential.

"In the past two weeks [since the Australian Grand Prix] we have made a big effort and still at Honda we are going up a high mountain and are in the middle section," he said. "But we are confident that what we did in the last two weeks is very, very good for our confidence and maybe the next two weeks we are stepping up more and looking more at getting good results step by step."

However, McLaren is hoping running more power will have knock-on benefits beyond the obvious extra BHP. By running with more power, the drivers spend less time at full throttle, which in turn improves fuel consumption - a major factor under the current regulations. What's more, running quicker lap times should help the drivers extract more performance from the tyres and so the advantages are quickly multiplied.

"When you down-tune your performance to achieve laps you can make easy and fast gains after in terms of lap time and this is why 1.6s [was found on Saturday]," McLaren racing director Eric Boullier explained. "It's true that over the next races there is a reliability process and making checks, and with the more laps we do the more confidence we gain to turn a little bit the performance of the car. From a very conservative approach, just going to a conservative one would be a good gain and if we can go further than this we will see some good gains.

"I think we can expect over the course of the next three races some improvement. We are still very conservative and we want to run and develop the car and catch up the mileage that we missed in winter testing. This is the easiest gain we can have over the next races, yes."

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