SHANGHAI: Former world champion Fernando Alonso credited divine intervention after driving “like an animal” in Saturday’s qualifying in China amid rumours of a possible switch to Mercedes.
The Spaniard’s beleaguered McLaren has been beset by reliability issues but he squeezed the most out of it with a 13th-place finish in qualifying at the Shanghai circuit.
“I’m driving like an animal!” he growled over the radio to his team early in the qualifying session.
Just 17th in practice earlier in the day, Alonso declared his qualifying performance as “one of the best laps I’ve done in my life”.
The two-time Formula One king added: “This morning we tried a few new pieces and everything worked as expected, but we were 17th and 19th with all the power available, and we faced qualifying thinking of fighting Sauber for the final places.
“In the end, 13th is the divine present.”
Alonso, world champion with Renault in 2005 and 2006, has expressed frustration with not having a car that is up to challenging the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari.
He famously yelled “GP2 engine!” down the team radio in disgust at the car’s Honda power unit in Japan last year, threatening to cause friction between McLaren and their suppliers Honda.
The pairing had hoped to bring back a glory period when they reunited in 2015 after they won eight world championships together between the late eighties and early nineties.
Instead, Honda has been unable to deliver an engine capable of competing at the front of the grid.
Lewis Hamilton secured pole position in Saturday’s qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix as Mercedes look to avenge a surprise defeat by Ferrari in the season opener in Melbourne two weeks ago.
One of the fastest drivers in F1, Alonso’s contract with McLaren expires at the end of the season and he is very much in the shop window this year.
“We really pushed the maximum,” he said after narrowly missing out on the top-10 qualifying shootout in China.
“I did the lap flat-out in some corners, not caring too much about the risks over the limit. Now we need to capitalise on this position and hopefully bring some points.”
Alonso recently declined to rule out a switch to Mercedes, who saw Nico Rosberg sensationally walk away from the sport after winning the world championship for the German carmaker last year.
Joining Mercedes would mean an intriguing reunion with Hamilton, the British triple world champion with whom Alonso had a stormy relationship when they were McLaren team-mates in 2007.