By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - McLaren's hopes of returning to the Formula One big-time with Renault power appeared ambitious after qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday but a relieved Fernando Alonso was content to be in the hunt for points.
Twice world champion Alonso and Belgian team mate Stoffel Vandoorne failed to break into the top 10 for the third and final session at Albert Park and their aspirations of re-joining the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari at the front seem far-fetched.
There was, however, some relief that the cars suffered no major reliability problems after they had a number of glitches during pre-season testing.
Alonso, the fastest of the five cars eliminated in Q2, is set to be promoted to 10th on the grid for Sunday's race if Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas is handed a penalty for a gearbox change after a crash during Q3.
Alonso's team mate Stoffel Vandoorne will line up one place behind the Spaniard.
"It’s what we have today and what we deserve. Happy with it," said Alonso.
"I think we showed some performance in the free practice, especially this morning in damp conditions.
"I think we have a huge potential to unlock in the car, we’re still having some issues before unlocking everything so I think the next coming races we can look forward to the season very optimistic."
Fallen giants McLaren split with engine supplier Honda last year after three miserable seasons, and the Woking-based outfit have placed high hopes on the Renault engine that powered Red Bull to three wins in 2017.
There may have been some satisfaction in the McLaren garage that both Toro Rosso cars, now using Honda power units, were knocked out in Q1.
“I think our race pace is probably better than our qualifying pace, so we’re in a good starting position," said 36-year-old Alonso, who has not reached the podium since moving from Ferrari to McLaren in 2015.
"So definitely some good points are the target. Tomorrow will probably be one of the first races in the last couple of years where we won’t need to defend, and we will go for the attack mode."
(Editing by Toby Davis)