McLaren on reliability woes: 'We are on top of this'

MONTMELO, Spain -- Another day, another reliability problem; but McLaren insists it does not have a fundamental design issue with its new car.

The British team has lost mileage to reliability issues at four of the pre-season's six test days so far and now has just two full days remaining before the first race in Australia. After ditching engine-suppler Honda over the winter and pairing up with Renault for 2018, the pressure is on the team to perform but so far pre-season testing has not gone to plan.

A wheelnut failure limited mileage on the first day of testing before the exhaust fried the wiring loom on the second day thanks to a clip worth £2 breaking at the rear of the car. Day three was a write off for all teams due to snow before McLaren completed a total of 161 laps on the final day of week one.

The onus was on the team to make up for lost ground this week, but the second test got off to another bad start after the car suffered two battery issues and a hydraulic leak on Tuesday. Wednesday morning's running was then limited to 47 laps after an oil leak stopped Fernando Alonso on track and required a full engine change.

There was speculation the majority of the problems could be related to overheating at the rear of the car after two small ventilation holes emerged on the engine cover at the end of last week and another two appeared at the start of this week, but racing director Eric Boullier said the reliability problems experienced so far have not been a direct consequence of the tight packaging at the rear of the MCL33.

"I don't think this is related," he said. "We tried to design the best car, so we have to be convinced about the car concept. With every new car concept, you obviously have to prove out on-track if it works or not. There is some adjustment.

"We are trying to make the best out of our car to make sure the aerodynamic platform is delivering much more. So we'll see. Today I think we're about to fine tune, but the problem we had with the [oil] leak is nothing related to that."

The reliability issues would be easier to stomach if the car had shown impressive performance during testing, but so far it appears to be off the pace of F1's front runners. McLaren has opted to do the majority of its running on Pirelli's softer compounds -- a decision made when selecting its tyres ahead of the test -- but using the hyper-soft compound the McLaren has yet to post a lap time within 1.8s of this test's benchmark lap set by Daniel Ricciardo.

"I think it's just testing," Boullier said when asked about the car's performance. "On the tyre story -- as I said last week, and it's still the same -- we have a technical reason why we want to work on the car with these tyres.

"The car breaking down, yes, it's testing, so we have some little issues which we have to fix, but it's just testing. It's part of the process. We are on top of this. It's a new partnership with Renault, completely new packaging for the car as well. This is testing. Give us time and it's fine."

Boullier said the lost track time means the team's priorities have shifted over the course of the test.

"The time we lose in the garage is time we don't spend on track. We had eight days of testing obviously couple of them under snow conditions. We are trying to make a plan and every time we lose track time we have to revise the plan and make some other priorities so that something we will not test. We have to make sure we do the most of the priorities and that should be OK, that should be enough."