What a difference a year makes. 12 months ago, Fernando Alonso limped out of a lowly position in Australia with floor issues. This year, with a Renault rather than a Honda engine in the rear of his McLaren, he held off Max Verstappen to take fifth place in the season opener, equalling the best result he achieved over three years of using the Japanese manufacturer’s power unit.
Proud Alonso targets Red Bull after fifth-place finish
Afterwards, though he admitted circumstances played a large part in him climbing five places from his grid slot, Alonso hailed McLaren’s turnaround in fortunes, adding that his result and team mate Stoffel Vandoorne’s ninth place represented just the beginning for the team.
“It was definitely a good race, especially from where we came. 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. 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.
“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 and 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.”
Alonso was the recipient of 2018's first fan-voted Driver of the Day award for his performance, key to which was his ability to hold off Verstappen’s Red Bull in the closing stages.
“I would have preferred for the last few laps not to have had [him] behind me, because he’s always a threat - he’s a very aggressive driver on overtaking moves.
“I knew I had to be very careful and make no mistakes. But that was fun!”
Prior to Sunday, McLaren hadn’t scored any points in Australia since their double podium finish in 2014 when they were still using Mercedes engines.