Spanish GP: Fernando Alonso's verdict on upgraded McLaren
McLaren closer to Haas and Renault, says Alonso after Barcelona eighth place in new-look MCL33
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 11/12/18 12:45pm
Fernando Alonso believes McLaren have closed up on their key midfield rivals - but still trail the front-runners by a similar margin as before - after giving their upgraded car a points-scoring result in his home Spanish GP.
The first European round of the season at Barcelona was targeted as a key weekend by McLaren to start making performance improvements, with the team admitting the MCL33 specification used this weekend - which featured a new-look nose - should have been the one they had at the season-opener in Australia.
In Saturday's qualifying hour, Alonso delivered the team their first Q3 appearance of 2018 and then in Sunday's race finished eighth despite losing ground at the start when he had to go wide avoiding the Romain Grosjean-triggered melee at Turn Three - a comeback to the points the Spaniard said he thought would be "impossible".
Alonso reckons the weekend as a whole showed clear improvement from McLaren in the midfield pecking order.
"We knew the upgrades put us in a better position in the midfield pack," he told Sky F1. "I think we caught up with Renault and Haas.
"But the top three teams are still developing their cars at the same rate we do so we keep that gap unfortunately."
Despite maintaining his 100 per cent points-scoring record at the start of this season with his fifth top-10 finish in a row, McLaren slipped behind engine suppliers Renault to fifth place in the Constructors' Championship.
But an optimistic Alonso insisted: "We did a good step here. We were eight tenths behind Renault in Baku, nine tenths behind in China and here we were the same in qualifying and quite the same in the race."
The highlight of the Spaniard's race was a bold around-the-outside pass on Esteban Ocon at Turn Three after the Safety Car, although Alonso added: "We are still lacking some straight-line speed to be able to overtake. That's something we are working on, we know the weakness on the car and hopefully we will find solutions quite soon."
Alonso, who also overtook Sauber's Charles Leclerc into Turn One after a Virtual Safety Car restart, had expected a battling start to the race given he was the only driver in the top 10 starting on Pirelli's fastest tyres.
"We had the plan beforehand which was overtaking cars at the start because we started on the supersofts so we knew we had to stop quite early," he said.
"But we found that we lost positions and then we were in the middle of the Turn Two incident so I thought points were impossible today. I'm happy with eighth."