Bahrain Grand Prix: McLaren's Fernando Alonso says the next two months 'crucial'

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer in Bahrain
Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso came 15th in the drivers' championship in 2017
Bahrain Grand Prix on the BBC
Dates: 6-8 April. Circuit: Bahrain International.
Coverage: Practice, qualifying and race across BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and online. Live text commentary, leaderboard and imagery on BBC Sport website and app.

Fernando Alonso says the next two months will be "crucial" for his McLaren team's ambition to compete for podium positions this season.

The two-time world champion finished fifth in the Australian Grand Prix but McLaren are a long way from their ambition of matching Red Bull for pace.

Alonso said: "There is still a lot to improve to catch the top three teams [Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull].

"It's quite a reasonable gap to close but it is up to us now."

McLaren have switched to Renault engines, the same as Red Bull, this season after three years of poor performance and reliability with Honda, who now supply Toro Rosso.

Alonso said: "The next two months are crucial for us. If it is not a world championship fight, it will hopefully be some podium positions.

"It is probably the first time in the last three years it is up to us - the car has the potential.

"We had some ups and downs in [pre-season] testing and then in Australia it was the same thing and the qualifying was not smooth enough to show the potential. It was a good race, help from the safety car, but we take this fifth place and move on.

"It is up to the team to deliver the performance in the next four, five, six races."

The Spaniard qualified 11th in Melbourne, where the McLaren appeared to be about 0.8 seconds a lap slower than the Red Bull, for whom Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth and fifth.

Alonso admitted that his fifth place in the opening race owed something to luck, after he gained several places thanks to the intervention of the virtual safety car, which also decided the lead battle between Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.

Asked if he felt it was realistic to talk about fighting for the podium after starting the season so far from the pace, Alonso said: "Yes. We were two places from the podium in Australia. Anything can happen. If you are close to that position, sooner or later that opportunity will come."

Pierre Gasly
Pierre Gasly is yet to score a point after six Grand Prix races

Meanwhile, Honda have already suffered their first reliability problem of the new season.

After retiring in the season-opener in Australia, Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly has had a new internal combustion engine, turbo and MGU-H - the part of the hybrid system that recovers energy from the turbo - fitted for Bahrain.

That means the Frenchman is already on the second of his three permitted examples of each part for the entire season. If a driver uses more than three examples of any of the six designated parts of the engine, he suffers a grid penalty.

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