Fernando Alonso sets Red Bull goal for McLaren after Australian GP

AUTO-PRIX-F1-AUS

Fernando Alonso believes McLaren has the pace to challenge Red Bull after finishing fifth in Sunday's Australian GP.

The British team has had a tricky start to 2018 with overheating problems in testing and perhaps that less than 100 percent readiness resulted in their surprise exit in Q2 in qualifying with both Alonso and teammate Stoffel Vandoorne finishing behind both Renault and Haas.

In the Grand Prix, however, the former double world champion's prowess shone through and the decision to switch to Renault engines was also vindicated with Fernando taking advantage of a mid-race Virtual Safety Car to jump from P9 to P5, his eventual finishing position.

To achieve that, the Spaniard had to keep Max Verstappen at bay albeit on a circuit where overtaking is difficult, but to achieve it still pleased Alonso who hailed the progress McLaren has made.

“It was definitely a good race, especially from where we came," he told Formula1.com.

"The last three years were difficult and I think the winter was difficult too. We switched to the Renault power unit very late last year, so we had a very quick reaction from the team to redesign some of the parts at the rear end [of the car].

“Now we come here and both cars have scored points, [we’re in] the top five and we should be proud of that."

With the relationship with Renault still young, and a few niggles still be overcome, the 36-year-old believes, once the creases are ironed out, the potential of McLaren going forward is huge.

"I think there’s a lot more to come from McLaren, this is the first race of this combination – McLaren-Renault – some of the updates will come in the coming races, so hopefully we can look up a little more. Red Bull will be the next targets," he said.

“As I said on Thursday, I think this is going to be our lowest performance level of the year. I think it’s going to get better and better with races.

"Obviously today we got lucky with the two Haas retirements and Carlos [Sainz] had a problem at Turn 9," Alonso added.

"Then there was a Virtual Safety Car and we overtook Verstappen. So let’s say that four or five places were just because the conditions were in our favour, but we did no mistakes, we capitalised on everything, so a perfect job by the team.”

With a ninth-place finish for teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, it marked only the second time in the hybrid era McLaren scored points at the opening race.

The first time being with Mercedes power at the inaugural race with the current engines in 2014.

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