Honda, engine manufacturers for Alonso’s team McLaren have announced a number of reliability-related changes, which will take Alonso beyond the permitted four-part rule. McLaren-Honda have a new, more aerodynamically sound upgrade package in store, and as there is only one set, it has been decided that Alonso will run them this race. The last time the team had upgrades was at the Shanghai Grand Prix, when teammate Jenson Button used them.
Another reason Alonso was given the upgrade kit was that he drove early on in testing this week, which Button sat out of – giving Alonso a 4-day headstart to be able to properly evaluate and understand engine upgrades.
Honda’s spokesperson said they were in fact expecting the grid penalties. F1 regulations specify six specified parts under change regulations – and for a fifth of each of the parts specified, drivers suffer a 10-place grid penalty – and another five-place penalty for any subsequent replacements. It is believed that Honda are replacing as many as three significant parts, which implies a 20-place drop in the grid.
If Alonso’s grid position is so low that the penalty cannot be served, F1 regulations offer sliding-scale penalties, served in the form of in-race time penalties according to the number of place penalties the driver is unable to fulfil.