MELBOURNE • Not even Ferrari's renaissance could inject McLaren driver Fernando Alonso with optimism that his embattled team could experience a revival of their own.
In a sign of how far McLaren have fallen, a retirement for Alonso and a last-place finish for team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne saw the team perform beneath low expectations for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix yesterday.
The Honda-powered cars had a dreary winter testing with slow times and an assortment of reliability issues, and the same problems played out through the race weekend in Melbourne for the Woking-based outfit.
But two-time world champion Alonso, who qualified 13th on Saturday, battled up to 10th and for a while was in contention to grab championship points at Albert Park. It all came undone for the Spaniard, however, as his car halted with an apparent suspension problem only a few laps from the finish.
"I was driving one of my best races so far. We were surprisingly in the points all the race long," he said. "Also we had to do a huge fuel saving which was hurting us a lot but we were able to keep the position. As I said, a little surprised to be so (high) up but at the end we didn't finish and definitely we need to be more competitive very soon."
Alonso's rookie team-mate Vandoorne was the last of the 13 cars that finished, having been lapped twice by Ferrari winner Sebastian Vettel.
That the Belgian was able to crawl over the line might have been cause for a small celebration for McLaren, whose relationship with Honda has become increasingly strained by continuing struggles.
Alonso had little doubt where McLaren lay in the Formula One pecking order, even next to F1 minnows like Haas and Sauber.
"I think we are last," he said. "That's the performance we have now. We were 10th (today) because the qualifying lap we had yesterday was extremely good. In normal conditions in the normal circuit we should be last."
On Friday, Sky Sports commentator and former McLaren driver Martin Brundle said the team's problems were awful for the whole sport.
"It's a nightmare. They seem to have gone backwards," he said.
"It's awful for Formula One. Nobody needs the great McLaren team, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne blowing up and down the back of the field."
Former F1 driver Mark Webber has warned McLaren and fans that Alonso could soon quit the team.
The Australian, now a television pundit, said that Alonso might not put up with a struggling McLaren for three whole years.
"Alonso may not stay with the team," he told the Belgian news agency Sporza. "I can see it happening that Alonso does not complete the season. He is very frustrated."