SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Three years ago Honda were left embarrassed at the Japanese Grand Prix after McLaren’s Fernando Alonso compared the Japanese manufacturer’s Formula One power unit to a “GP2 engine”.
On Saturday, however, Honda, now supplying engines to Toro Rosso, were celebrating their best combined qualifying result since their return after Brendon Hartley secured sixth place on the starting grid in Suzuka with Pierre Gasly seventh.
McLaren, now supplied with Renault engines, were languishing at the back of the grid with Alonso in 18th and Stoffel Vandoorne 19th.
“Now we can fight in Q3!” Toro Rosso tweeted, aiming a jibe at Alonso, who made a similar statement after finishing fifth in Australia, McLaren’s first race since ditching Honda.
Honda, running an upgraded power unit this weekend, returned to Formula One in 2015 supplying engines exclusively to McLaren. They had hoped the partnership will recreate the glory days of the late 1980s and early 90s when they dominated the sport.
Instead what followed was three years of frustration as Honda’s engines proved to be unreliable and underpowered.
Alonso famously aired his frustration at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2015 comparing the Honda engine to that used in Formula One feeder category GP2, since renamed Formula 2, in a radio message broadcast for all to hear.
The relationship ended acrimoniously with McLaren switching over to Renault at the start of the year and Honda teaming up with Toro Rosso.
The Japanese manufacturer, who will also supply former champions Red Bull next year, has improved vastly since, most notably powering Gasly to a fourth place finish at the second race of the season in Bahrain.
“Definitely we have a big thank you to say to Honda,” Hartley, who sealed his best ever qualifying result, said on Saturday.
“To deliver in front of all the Honda and Japanese fans was pretty special.
“I know it’s only half the job, but I’m sure we made a lot of people happy today with that performance.”
Gasly said he could have qualified in the top five but was unable to run the engine to its maximum potential.
“For the team I think it’s unbelievable,” he said. “The best qualifying of the season for Toro Rosso and Honda and to do it in Suzuka is probably the best time of the year.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar