But­ton and Alonso strug­gle in Honda home­com­ing race

The Star (Kenya) - - Sports -

McLaren duo Jen­son But­ton and Fer­nando Alonso did not have as smooth an open­ing day of prac­tice as they might have hoped on Fri­day ahead of their en­gine sup­plier Honda’s home Ja­panese For­mula One Grand Prix.

The Spa­niard, who placed ninth fastest in the open­ing 90 min­utes be­fore im­prov­ing to eighth, de­scribed his day as tough af­ter strug­gling to find the op­ti­mal set-up on his car to tackle the flow­ing twists of the Suzuka cir­cuit. “We are not yet happy with the set-up,” Alonso, who spun into the bar­ri­ers early in the first ses­sion, told re­porters.

“We need to keep work­ing at it a lit­tle bit tonight.”

Last year’s Ja­panese race marked ar­guably the nadir of a bruis­ing re­turn to For­mula One for the Ja­panese car­maker, who re­newed a once-dom­i­nant part­ner­ship with Wok­ing-based McLaren but strug­gled to adapt to the sport’s new turbo-hy­brid rules. The com­bi­na­tion has made steady progress this year, how­ever, and they go into their home race at the Suzuka track - owned by Honda - ex­pect­ing to score de­cent points.

Alonso, run­ning an up­dated en­gine he first tested in prac­tice at the last race in Malaysia, doubted whether the team would be able to qual­ify in the top 10.

But the dou­ble cham­pion ex­pressed op­ti­mism they could still race well on Sun­day and put in a good show­ing in front of the en­thu­si­as­tic Ja­panese fans.

“They are ev­ery­where sup­port­ing us,” said Alonso. “They are very proud of Honda rac­ing in For­mula One and now achiev­ing some good re­sults, so we want to de­liver the best re­sults for them.”

But­ton, who has long been a dar­ling of the Ja­panese fans, was only 13th and 16th fastest in the two ses­sions. The Bri­ton, mak­ing way for Bel­gian rookie Stof­fel Van­doorne at the end of the sea­son, is hop­ing to make the most of what could be his last ap­pear­ance at Suzuka.

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