Fernando Alonso expects McLaren to make the most progress during 2018 compared to its rivals and expects the Australian Grand Prix to be its least competitive weekend of the season.
After three years with Honda, McLaren switched to Renault power units this season but suffered a number of reliability issues during pre-season testing. With those problems emphasizing the challenge of getting the most out of a new partnership, Alonso says the team will only improve from the level of performance it shows in Melbourne.
“This weekend will be our lowest level,” Alonso said. “We will be the team that will progress [the most] relative to other teams, just because the integration to a new power unit will require time.
“The chassis has been designed and the season programmed with many updates that will come very soon, in the first couple of races. What we see here is going to be important, yes, but we will be better and better. I expect the second half of the season, for example, a very strong McLaren.
“I understand that we are not at the level of Mercedes now or the level of Red Bull or Ferrari – or that’s what we think after winter testing – so we are not in that leading group yet. But we should be there in a couple of races time or in the second part of the championship or something, because we are McLaren so we should be there.
“In 2012 [Ferrari] were not in that group either and we were leading the championship in the last race, so we will see what happens this year.”
With McLaren showing confidence in its chassis last season, Alonso is also confident the team will not be hampered by the relatively late switch to a Renault engine.
“I don’t think we compromised any of the potential of the car because of the power unit. I think the chassis again should be very strong chassis in terms of performance. The engine is an engine that is an evolution from last year. Obviously it needs to last a little bit more than last year – only three engines per season with the new regulations – so I think Renault did a good job over the winter and we should be ready.
“We know that there are some other packages here that are performing more right now. We know that Mercedes is the favorite and showed very strong pace in the winter; we are not at that level yet but hopefully we can get to that level soon.”