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McLaren situation has ‘changed a lot and improved a lot’ – Alonso

28 Jun 2018

After a dismal showing at the French Grand Prix, critics have been lining up to put the boot into McLaren. But ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix, the team’s superstar Spaniard Fernando Alonso reckons that their detractors need to start looking at the bigger picture...

True, McLaren's – and especially Alonso’s – recent run of form hasn’t been pretty to look at. P7 at Monaco when he was forced to retire with a gearbox problem, P11 but sharking for points in Canada when he retired with an exhaust issue, and then classified P16 and last (but actually retired from the race) at last week’s French Grand Prix. Worst of all, Alonso’s even had to watch his name drop out of our Power Rankings, having been one of the most consistent occupants of the top 10 earlier this year…

Despite all that, however, Alonso is adamant that he’d rather have the chance to be fighting for points at each Grand Prix weekend, as has been the case for the majority of 2018, rather than running around outside the top 10, as was often the case when he had a Honda engine in the back of his McLaren from 2015 to 2017. It’s worth noting that, after McLaren's switch to Renault power for 2018, Alonso scored in the first five Grands Prix of this season, a feat he hasn’t managed since he was a Ferrari driver back in 2014.

“We had zero points [this time] last season,” said the Spaniard when speaking to the media at the Red Bull Ring. “The situation changed a lot and improved a lot. We are not where we want to be, and we want to improve. We want to fight for podiums, we want to fight for championships.

“We were thinking this year could be that transition to be close to the podiums and close to the Red Bull performance, and we are not. We realise that, and we accept that we need to improve. If this was the season to improve… we did improve massively. 400 or 500% more points than last year, so we are doing what we can.”

Alonso’s show of solidarity to his team will be a comfort to McLaren racing director Eric Boullier, who endured a heated pre-race press conference over the French Grand Prix weekend where he was frequently forced to deny rumours of discontent in the McLaren camp.

That wasn’t helped by the team then producing arguably their least convincing performance of the season at Paul Ricard. There, Alonso was running in last place in the final laps when he decided to come in for fresh rubber to see if he could claim the fastest race lap – only to suffer the embarrassment of his MCL33’s suspension collapsing and forcing him into retirement. Meanwhile, his team mate Stoffel Vandoorne could only manage P12.

“It was our least competitive Sunday,” reckoned Alonso. “But if you look at the race trace, we were quite competitive… The pace for the whole first stint was very similar to [Carlos] Sainz and [Kevin] Magnussen [in the Renault and Haas], which was definitely not [the case] on Saturday [when] we were 1.5 seconds behind them. On Sunday again we did improve a lot. If you look only at the results, we were out in Q1, [so people say] ‘Let’s blame McLaren’. And on Sunday we were out of the points, [so people say that] McLaren is very bad.

“We are fifth in the constructors’ championship, I’m eighth in the drivers’ championship. All the other [teams] that are doing a ‘perfect’ season, they are behind us, so maybe they are not so perfect and we are not so bad. We understand we have been uncompetitive, and we are the first ones that want to improve that.

“At the same time, we are not last. We are not getting worse and worse. We are not the worst team in the paddock. We are not these things that we’ve been hearing for the last three days.

“There are no small teams racing – there is no Manor Racing, there is no Caterham. Sauber is probably the smallest team and they are fighting for Q3, so the midfield group is amazingly tight and amazingly competitive. So we are dealing with amazingly competitive teams and we try to do our best.”