Fernando Alonso: McLaren F1 car's Malaysian GP pace 'nice surprise'

Fernando Alonso said the pace of his McLaren-Honda Formula 1 car during the Malaysian Grand Prix was "surprisingly good", as the new package showed promise before engine problems

Fernando Alonso: McLaren F1 car's Malaysian GP pace 'nice surprise'

Returning to the cockpit for the Sepang race after his pre-season testing crash, Alonso mixed it with the Force Indias during practice and while neither he nor team-mate Jenson Button advanced from Q1 - only outqualifying Roberto Merhi's Manor - Sunday represented a step in the right direction after a disastrous Australian Grand Prix.

Before his race ended with an ERS cooling issue on lap 21, the Spaniard spent the bulk of his time behind Sergio Perez's Force India, amid what was essentially the midfield group after most drivers pitted during the early safety car period.

Asked if progress had been made, Alonso replied: "Yes, better than expected.

"[The] pace was surprisingly good, running with the pack even catching the Red Bulls at the end before the pitstop.

"Hopefully in China we can make another step forward. These reliability problems are normal without [much running in] winter testing.

"This is normally what you find in winter testing and we have to find it in the first couple of races."

Despite failing to get a car to the line, the step forward in pace represented a positive outcome for the team, especially in the warmer conditions given Honda's cooling issues.

"I think I had a very positive weekend," Alonso said.

"Free practice had no issues, so I was able to try some set-up changes, qualifying went OK but [it was] too short, out of Q1.

"Now we found a problem it is important for the team to understand and not repeat the same problem for the next race.

"The level of competitiveness has been quite good. We were running with pack and catching Red Bull at end before the pitstops was a nice surprise."

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