SHANGHAI - Twice Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso unleashed his inner animal on Saturday as he dragged his misfiring McLaren Honda past the opening phase of qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix.
“I am pushing like an animal,” Alonso told his team over the radio after unexpectedly setting a time good enough to get him well clear of the elimination zone and into the top-10 in the opening part of the hour-long session.
The Spaniard eventually ended up 13th on the timesheets, failing to make it through to the final pole-position shootout phase.
Nevertheless, his was one of the standout performances of the qualifying hour, given his McLaren had been expected to be knocked out early on like his team mate Stoffel Vandoorne was in 16th.
“I did the lap flat out in some corners, not caring too much, risking over the limit and everything went well,” Alonso told reporters.
“Q1 was our target today,” he said, referring to the opening part of qualifying at the end of which the slowest cars on the grid are generally eliminated. “But we picked up some pace in qualifying, the car behaved okay and it was a surprise to be 10th in Q1 and also 13th in Q2.”
When asked what animal he was pushing like, the 35-year-old replied: “A big one, an elephant, or something like that.”
Alonso and McLaren have endured a frustrating start to the season as engine supplier Honda continue to struggle to come to terms with Formula One’s V6 turbo-hybrid rules three years into their rekindled partnership.
The team’s running during pre-season testing was hampered by a lack of reliability and performance from the engines and their form in last month’s season-opener in Melbourne little better.
Despite putting in what he called one of the best drives of his career, Alonso could only battle for the lower points-paying positions, before dropping out of contention altogether and eventually retiring.
McLaren, who last won a race in 2012, expect to struggle even more this weekend down the long straights and around the wide sweeps of the Shanghai circuit.
As a result, Alonso is pinning his hopes on changeable conditions on Sunday delivering the team’s first points of the season.
“Mixed conditions will be welcome,” he said. “Wet-dry, wet-dry, multiple changes on the pitstops… will be a gamble for everyone.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)