By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Fernando Alonso helped lead a McLaren return back to relevancy after delivering with a fifth-place finish in the Australian Grand Prix.
The Woking-based outfit spent the previous three seasons backed by Honda power, but an offseason switch to Renault as the engine supplier has already seen a strong return with the team. The performance in the Formula 1 season opener matched McLaren’s best result since Alonso scored a fifth-place effort in the 2016 United States Grand Prix.
The 36-year-old Spaniard started from 10th on the grid and was a mainstay among the top of the mid-field. However, when fourth-place Kevin Magnussen and fifth-place Romain Grosjean – both with Haas F1 Team – fell out by Lap 22 and Lap 24, respectively, it opened the door to contend among the leaders.
Ultimately, the Renault-powered MCL33 maintained its strong pace throughout the final 30 laps around the 3.296-mile circuit at Albert Park. The two-time F1 World Champion fended off a late charge from Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen to score the top five result.
Additionally, teammate Stoffel Vandoorne put in a ninth-place effort to give McLaren a double-points result to jumpstart the year.
“It was a good race today, especially considering where we started,” said Alonso.
“The last couple of years have been difficult, and I think the winter has been difficult as well. We switched to the Renault engine quite late and the team had to react very quickly to redesign some of the parts at the rear end, and now we’ve come here and both cars have scored points – one in the top five.”
“We should be proud of that, but I think there’s a lot more to come from McLaren. We didn’t maximize the full potential nor squeeze everything out of the package today. This is only our first race together with Renault, and some updates will come in the next few races. We can start to look ahead a little bit and Red Bull will be the next target.
“As I said before, this race is probably our lowest performance of this season as things are going to get better and better.
“Obviously, today we got lucky with the two Haas cars retiring, Carlos’ [Sainz] problem in turn 9, and then overtaking Verstappen under the Safety Car. Let’s say four positions came thanks to some favorable conditions, but we made no mistakes and we capitalized on everything.
“A perfect job from the team.”
Eric Boullier, Race Director of McLaren, was obviously delighted with the double-points result, but remained level-headed due to the outcome coming largely due to Haas’ misfortunes.
“A good result for us today,” said Boullier. “We benefitted from every opportunity that was thrown at us – the first being Haas’ double retirement. We really feel for them because we know what this is like; a double DNF is hard to take, but this is racing.
“We knew we had some potential and further speed to unlock from the car today. We took every chance we could and both drivers drove superbly.
“We showed good pace, enjoyed some good fights, and we completed two decent pit stops which helped us keep our strategy on track.”