An underwhelming return to Formula One for Honda last year came to a head at the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix when McLaren’s two-time world champion Fernando Alonso said his Japanese-built engine was “embarrassing” over team radio for all the world to hear.

With McLaren-Honda returning for the Suzuka race this weekend, the lone Japanese F1 engine manufacturer wants no repeat of that PR disaster, and recent good results mean there is an air of positivity around the team, Alonso included.

“Let’s say we are happy with the progress we made this year and definitely we are able to fight with some competitive teams,” the Spaniard, a 16-year F1 veteran, said Thursday.

“We have the potential, we have the facilities, we have the talented people. This project, as we have said many times, it’s a question of time (before) we will be able to win.”

Honda has not necessarily made life easy for itself, however. The company’s insistence on doing it with an all-Japanese staff has been a handbrake on progress, given that its six years out of the sport meant staff had limited experience with the latest hybrid-power engine regulations, despite Honda joining forces with the established Britain-based McLaren team.

Alonso hinted this and the all-Japanese approach meant it took Honda some time to grow.

“I found it very interesting from day one, working with Honda, the philosophy and the approach they have to racing in general, and I think to some extent to life,” said Alonso, who this season has scored points at six of 16 races, taking his total to 42 — 31 more than he scored in the entirety of last season.

“They are doing the maximum. They are, as I said, following the times, everything made in Japan, only with Japanese people and it’s their mission.

“Now that the results are coming, I also think they are a little bit more motivated and they are starting to be more creative, let’s say, in terms of design and progress.”

Creativity is something of huge importance in a tightly regulated sport like F1, where every team and engine manufacturer is doing everything it can to work around the rules, from within the rules.

That way of operating is not necessarily second nature in Japanese corporate culture. But Alonso believes adding creativity to familiarity is a great strength and something he can learn himself.

“The way (the Japanese) work, the discipline, working and the loyalty also. All the engineers we have in our team, they’ve been working for Honda all their lives, from university,” Alonso said.

“They chose Honda and they will be with Honda for all their lives so that’s quite different to our culture and also I’m learning a lot.”

The 2016 season has had plenty of downs to go along with the ups, though, as Alonso has needed to use two more engines than any other driver, and has taken penalties because of it.

This weekend in Japan, however, the team has delivered an upgraded power unit to his car and will be hoping it brings both a step forward in reliability and speed, with an eye on next season’s new regulations.

“We want to be more competitive next year. I think the biggest step has been done, from last year to this year,” said Alonso. “But we need another big step next year.

“I’m extremely happy to feel a part of this project, from day one.”

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