Fernando Alonso sees the McLaren F1 Team edging closer to Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and into a position where they can “forget” their mid-field rivals.
McLaren’s first race with Renault power saw Alonso claim an impressive fifth place in between the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
Although the result was flattered by a well-timed safety car, Alonso believes McLaren can justifiably target a fight with Red Bull for the remainder of the season.
“Definitely it’s going to be better and better [for McLaren],” Alonso told motorsport.com. “There’s a lot of potential in the car still to unlock.
“It’s the first race with this combination, McLaren [and] Renault power unit, so a lot more to come.
“Hopefully from Bahrain we [will] see another step forward and Red Bull will be the next target.”
The updates to McLaren’s MCL33 that were originally scheduled to appear in Australia are expected to be on the car this weekend for the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix.
When asked if McLaren could take the fight to Red Bull as early as this weekend, Alonso said: “I think right now they’re still clearly ahead of us. They’re in that exclusive group of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
“But McLaren is willing to enter that group and I think in the next couple of races hopefully we forget the middle group and we look forward to [joining] that privileged three top teams.
“There is potential in the car, I cannot see any reason why we should not be there in the next coming races.”
Alonso emphasised that McLaren’s result in Australia was particularly encouraging given the lateness of the team’s switch from Honda to Renault engines.
“We cannot forget that we decide to switch engines very late in the season so we had to redesign some of the parts that we already made at the rear end of the car,” Alonso said.
“I think the integration between McLaren and Renault still not at hundred percent, and in the next coming races we’ll see more and more potential.”
Alonso’s team-mate, Stoffel Vandoorne, echoes the Spaniard’s optimism.
“I’m very optimistic,” said Vandoorne. “We know there’s a lot coming from us.
“The partnership with Renault is still very new. This was our first race. We know that the next couple of races there’s new parts coming on the car.
“We feel that there’s some margin for progression. We know the next couple of races are crucial for us. Hopefully we can bring some upgrades and improvements to the car and deliver some more performance.”