Fernando Alonso believes McLaren are ready to step up to podiums and wins in 2018
"We can see what Red Bull are doing with the Renault power unit"
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 08/12/17 1:35pm
Fernando Alonso believes McLaren are ready to deliver podiums and victories in 2018 when armed with Renault power.
After three fruitless and frustrating seasons in partnership with Honda, McLaren will switch to Renault engines next year.
The team have repeatedly stressed they believe their 2017 car was a match for those of Mercedes and Ferrari, and have taken encouragement - and inspiration - from the three victories of their Renault-powered rivals Red Bull.
McLaren's last victory was in November 2012.
"We can see what Red Bull are doing with the Renault power unit," said Alonso. "Maybe they are not the quickest, but they are fighting for podiums and victories. That will be a very good step if we can achieve that."
Direct comparisons with Red Bull are inevitable next year but team boss Zak Brown says McLaren have nothing to fear.
"Sometimes we would have been ahead of them, sometimes behind," Brown told Sky F1 in Abu Dhabi ahead of the season-ending race.
"We have all the GPS data, we would have been right there with Red Bull. Our season would have looked like theirs."
But Alonso added: "Nobody in F1 can guarantee anything. Not even Mercedes can know 100 per cent they will be competitive."
In May 2015, then-McLaren boss Ron Dennis said: "I've said it before and I'll say it again: we have a mountain to climb, but climbing it we are and scale its summit we will - that I guarantee."
Dennis, with whom Alonso fell out to ruinous effect in 2007 when his first spell at McLaren ended after just one year, was thought to have been pivotal in persuading the Spaniard to return for 2015.
But Alonso says it was actually the lure and legend of Honda which pulled him back.
"When l joined the project, I joined firstly because it was because Honda coming in. Some of my inspiration to be a driver was when l was a kid watching television and Senna and Prost were driving the McLaren-Honda.
"It didn't work, the performance wasn't there, and now we will split. I'm sad on one side and happy on the other because l think next year will be much better.
"This year has been a little bit better than the last two - l have that impression from the fans and the people who l met, they seemed to have enjoyed this year and that's because of Indianapolis. Those two weeks were definitely the highlight of the year, we were fighting for the front row of the grid, we were leading the race, we were competitive.
"Here, it was a little bit frustrating. Too many retirements, too many painful moments - in Russia we didn't even start the race."
While Alonso's three seasons at McLaren since his return have failed to garner a single podium, the two-time world champion insists he is now a better driver than he was a decade ago when he won the second of his back-to-back titles.
"You learn over the seasons and become better and better," he explained. "You get more knowledge about the car and better preparation. Overall, you are a better driver every year."
Alonso also believes McLaren are a better team for their years in the wilderness. But mixed into his assessment of McLaren's battle-readiness, is it possible to detect a critique of Ferrari and, in particular, Sebastian Vettel?
"The last few years have taught us a lot," said Alonso. "Sometimes when you are winning too easily you then one day find yourself with competition and you make mistakes because you have forgotten how to fight and maximise the package. But if we produce a good car next year, the whole team is ready."
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