By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Fernando Alonso has played down reliability concerns about the new Renault-powered McLaren, saying problems that arose during pre-season testing have been fixed and the car will be “100 percent” ready for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
After switching to the Renault power unit after three gloomy years with Honda, McLaren’s MCL33 suffered more glitches and completed fewer laps on the test track than any other team.
However, double world champion Alonso, who considered quitting Formula One last year as McLaren slumped to ninth in the constructors’ championship, said the car’s gremlins had been banished in time for Sunday’s race at Albert Park.
“Well, I think we should be optimistic,” the 36-year-old Spaniard told Reuters at a Melbourne event held by McLaren sponsor Chandon.
“I think we had some reliability issues in testing but all of them are fixed now and the team did an amazing job in the past two or three weeks to have the car 100 percent for Australia.
“I think being in the points, being close to the top five, I think that will be the best thing we can do to start the season.
“We need this good result to motivate the team and to keep working for the rest of the season.”
McLaren, dominant in the late 1980s and early 1990s with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, have not won a race since 2012.
The fallen giants’ last title was with Lewis Hamilton, who has won three world championships since at Mercedes, in 2008.
The Honda engine’s struggles with power and reliability led to McLaren announcing the split last September. The striking papaya orange and blue MCL33 is the team’s first to be powered by Renault, whose engines took Red Bull to three race wins last season.
TOP FOUR TARGET
Since crossing to McLaren, Alonso has been stuck on 97 podium finishes, his last with Ferrari at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2014.
He was bullish about his chances of reaching the milestone 100th podium during the coming season and felt the team should also have big ambitions in the constructors’ championship.
“I think so. I think top four is definitely a target for us and we know that Mercedes is a little bit ahead of everyone and is dominating the sport for the last four years,” said Alonso, who will also race for Toyota at the Le Mans 24 Hours in June and in the full World Endurance championship.
“And they are the big favorites again to start the new season. But then we have Red Bull, we have Ferrari and definitely McLaren has to the next team on that order.”
With Mercedes having dominated the past four seasons, sweeping both the drivers’ and constructors titles, Alonso agreed that the Silver Arrows’ rivals needed to lift their game to keep fans interested in a series that has been criticized for becoming predictable.
“It’s always important to have some competition in any sport,” he said.
“I think competitions and close fights will attract more people and will make the championship more interesting but I don’t think that’s any problem with Mercedes’ dominance. They did a better job than the others in the last couple of years because they deserve (it).
“So it’s up to us to improve and to race our game and hopefully beat them very soon. And McLaren is probably one of the teams that can do that in the future, in the near future.
“And hopefully that near future is soon and even this year.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)