Oct.10 (GMM/Inautonews.com) Struggling Honda appears to finally be making progress with its F1 power unit.

Fernando Alonso was at the controls of a new specification of the Japanese carmaker’s turbo V6 at Sochi on Friday, making use of the final four in-season development ‘tokens’.

Trackside observers noted that Alonso’s Honda had a notably different engine sound.

“The engine has the power that we expected, but as we are on the tenth for the season, hopefully this will be better in reliability too,” the McLaren driver told Spanish media.

Alonso is therefore taking the penalties for installing the new engine at Sochi, but the actual use of the unit in the race will be postponed until Austin.

“It’s going to be a difficult race (in Russia),” he predicted, “as we are only going to use the new engine in Austin where we have a better chance without the grid position penalties.”

Alonso also seemed unfazed at the prospect of a 35-place grid drop, smiling that it is “nowhere near the record which I think was 55 (positions) at Spa”.

Indeed, McLaren seems buoyed that Honda might finally be making some observable progress.

“Ferrari had a similar problem last year and they managed to solve it,” said team boss Eric Boullier, “so although it is not easy, others have shown that it is possible.”

Along with his 35-place drop, Alonso is also marking his 250th career grand prix this weekend, and almost every team and driver attended a party late on Friday.

Notably absent, reported the sports daily Marca, were the two Ferrari drivers and Lewis Hamilton.

Perhaps even more notable was a long embrace during the celebrations between Alonso and Honda’s Yasuhisa Arai, just a fortnight after the Spanish driver denounced the “embarrassing” Japanese-made “GP2 engine”.