Fernando Alonso 'happy and surprised' at McLaren Melbourne F1 pace

Fernando Alonso believes McLaren-Honda has made a clear step forward, having been surprised by how well his 2016 Formula 1 season has begun at the Australian Grand Prix

Fernando Alonso 'happy and surprised' at McLaren Melbourne F1 pace

Although Alonso and team-mate Jenson Button still exited qualifying in Q2 and will start 12th and 13th, the double champion said the contrast with the 2015 season was enormously encouraging.

"Last year in Mexico I was not even able to participate in the race because we had a problem on the formation lap, in Brazil I was on that chair more time than I was on the track, and then in Abu Dhabi I started at the back and I ran alone all the race," he said.

"I came here and in Q1 I was third, obviously with two sets of super-softs, but in Q2 at the first attempt with everybody on the same tyres at the same time I was 10th, 1.2s off the Mercedes.

"We came out of Barcelona not knowing exactly how the performance was with this new car and we are happy and surprised.

"There's a long way to go and we don't want to be 12th and 13th - we want to be first and second.

"But it's definitely a starting point that makes us happy."

He also feels there is a lot more to come, with McLaren having been unable to get all the development parts it wanted on the car in time for Australia.

"We didn't expect to be too fast here because the car is still locked in some performance areas and a lot of things are coming for the next races," Alonso said.

Whereas last year McLaren often proved even less competitive in races as Honda's energy deployment problems left it facing huge straightline speed deficits, Button believes the team will hold its own on Sunday.

"I think we've probably got a better race car than a qualifying car, so it's a change-around compared to last year," he said.

"We have deployment almost as good as everyone else now.

"So it's going to benefit us a lot in the race, especially on the longer circuits, maybe not so much here but definitely Bahrain."

Alonso is convinced a double points finish is achievable.

"The car felt good all weekend, so why not tomorrow?" he said.

"With a good start and good strategy maybe both cars can be in the points and that would be good for us."

Button was more cautious but still impressed to have qualified within half a second of three Mercedes-powered cars.

"There's a Williams in front which I'm sure we will not be racing, but I think we're positively surprised how close we are to the Williams and the Force India," he said.

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