“A COMPLETE SURPRISE”
Fernando Alonso steered his way past chaos, collisions, debris, penalties, multiple Safety Car periods and even a mid-race stoppage to finish ninth and score McLaren-Honda’s first points of the season in a memorable, incident-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix today.
The Spaniard ran as high as fifth as the leaders encountered problems in the heat of the afternoon, then looked set for eighth until being overtaken by countryman Carlos Sainz Jnr in the closing laps.
Stoffel Vandoorne finished 12th after driving an equally strong race. A flat-spot towards the end prompted a late stop for fresh tyres, and, while he was able to close a 17-second deficit to the two Saubers ahead of him, he couldn’t quite get a pass to stick along the track’s long final straight.
Fastest lap 1m45.168s on lap 49 (+1.727s, 6th)
Pit-stops One (and one change during red flag): laps 12 (3.17s) and 22 (red flag) [Option/Prime. Option]
“Starting 19th because of our penalties, on one of our least competitive circuits, yet still scoring our first championship points is unreal; a complete surprise.
“The race really came to us through the many retirements and a lot of action. I managed to stay away from the walls, just brushing them here and there.
“Nevertheless, I think we could have fought for a podium finish today – and perhaps even the victory. We were behind Daniel Ricciardo during the first Safety Car period; then Lewis had a problem with his headrest and was forced to pit; Sebastian had a penalty; Kimi (briefly) retired; the two Force Indias touched each other, so we automatically found ourselves in a decent position.
“We missed out on further opportunities because we weren’t quick enough in the race and couldn’t hold on to that position. Still, we got our first two points of the season today, so let’s just take that.”
Fastest lap 1m46.648s on lap 45 (+3.207s, 13th)
Pit-stops Two (and one change during red flag): laps 5 (3.56s), lap 22 (red flag) and 33 (2.71s) [Prime/Option. Option/Option]
“I made a decent start – there was a lot of mayhem, a lot of debris – and I had to avoid a couple of slow cars on the run down to Turn Three, but I managed to keep my nose clean.
“Then the team did a great job to cover Romain Grosjean, I switched to the Option tyre and came out ahead of him. I had good pace on that tyre, but then the red flag came out and that took away my advantage as it meant everybody on the Prime could now get effectively a free tyre-change.
“After my final stop, I was catching the Saubers by 1.5s per lap, but once I’d caught them it was impossible to overtake. They were saving all their energy until the last corner; I was trying to do the same, in order to get the maximum boost available, but I just didn’t have the pace in the car to make it past them.
“Apart from that, our pace was strong today. It’s great for the team to score our first points of the season – we deserve it.”
McLAREN-HONDA RACING DIRECTOR
“The two world championship points we scored this evening are a validation of all we’ve worked towards in Baku this week. Since practice started, I’ve said that we’d need to take advantage of every opportunity that came our way in the race, and we did just that today.
“Both drivers raced with their customary vigour, but were also wary about getting caught up in any unnecessary incidents. Fernando drove a fantastic race, taking advantage of every opportunity, and I don’t feel ninth position is really a fair reflection of his achievements today.
“Stoffel also posted an extremely mature drive, and, while he had the pace to close down on the two Saubers – and the chance of a point-scoring position – they were able to keep just out of reach along the long straight that offers the best passing opportunity around this tricky circuit.
“For the strategy team, the engineers and our hard-working mechanics, today’s points are a welcome relief after an extremely tough weekend. They’ll have put a spring in our step as we prepare for better fortunes at the next race in Austria.”
HONDA R&D CO. LTD HEAD OF F1 PROJECT & EXECUTIVE CHIEF ENGINEER
“Despite the chaotic sequence of the race with so many incidents including the red flag, I think it was a successful day for the team. The drivers both drove faultless races and kept out of trouble to cross the finish line, and to top it off Fernando took home our first points of the season.
“Fernando showed off his impressive skill throughout the race, overtaking several cars on his way to the top 10. Stoffel also pushed hard, and almost managed to join Fernando in the points but just missed out in finishing P12.
“In addition to the drivers’ skill behind the wheel, the team executed a brilliant strategy today, fully utilising every opportunity of Safety Cars and the red flag, so thank you to them.
“Although we still saw a big gap to the front-runners, it was a great result if we consider that we started from the back of the grid on what is a very power-hungry circuit where we had expected a challenging weekend.
“For the next round in Austria, we are scheduled to bring our updated Spec 3 PU for both cars following the successful test here in Azerbaijan. In the meantime, we will continue our development with our best efforts in order to continue closing the gap.”