MELBOURNE (Reuters) - McLaren have Red Bull in their sights after twice world champion Fernando Alonso finished fifth in Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The Spaniard, his car now powered by the same Renault engine as Red Bull, started 10th on the grid but ended up matching the team’s best result in their previous three depressing years with Honda.
The retirements of both Haas cars, which started on the third row, helped McLaren’s cause by bringing out the safety car, as did an early spin which pushed Red Bull’s Max Verstappen back down the order.
Alonso and Belgian team mate Stoffel Vandoorne were also each gifted a higher place on the starting grid when Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas was demoted five places for needing a gearbox change.
Vandoorne, who had failed to qualify in the top 10, also ended in the points with a ninth place finish.
“I think it was more or less expected. We knew that we had a strong race pace, better than qualifying,” said Alonso, who has not had a podium since his final year at Ferrari in 2014.
“We capitalized on some of the problems that the others had today and we had an attack from Verstappen on the last 20 laps and we were able to defend. I’m happy, it was great work by the team.
“Definitely it’s going to be better and better,” added the 36-year-old, who finished a place ahead of Verstappen and one behind Red Bull’s Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
“I think there is a lot of potential in the car still to be unlocked.
“It’s the first race with this combination, McLaren and Renault power unit, so a lot more to come and hopefully from Bahrain we see another step forward and Red Bull will be the next target.”
Bahrain is the next race on the calendar on April 8.
Editing by Alan Baldwin