Fernando Alonso says profiting from zero engine penalties by qualifying a promoted sixth place for the Brazilian Grand Prix will provide McLaren with its key opportunity to show its true pace.

The Spanish driver narrowly missed out on the ‘best of the rest’ tag with seventh place in qualifying behind Force India's Sergio Perez at the Interlagos track but has been bumped up one spot by Daniel Ricciardo’s grid penalty for Red Bull.

With a third row start Alonso is targeting strong points for McLaren but has stressed the need for a flawless race in Brazil to maintain its charge against its midfield rivals.

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“It is definitely the best starting position for us this year [for McLaren],” Alonso said. “It was a good qualifying even though yesterday we were not super happy with the performance and the balance but today everything came back to normal and we were able to push in qualifying.

“It was a good opportunity as we’ve started at the back in recent Grand Prix – Japan, Malaysia, Austin and Mexico – but we were close to the points in every race so tomorrow starting sixth is definitely a great opportunity to score points if we execute the race properly.”

While Alonso was content with his qualifying performance and McLaren challenging for the fourth fastest team title against Force India, the two-time Formula 1 world champion insists the Woking-based squad has more potential being denied by its underpowered Honda engine.

“I think we belong a little bit higher than fourth,” he said. “It is nothing new as we’ve been dealing with it for the past three years. I think next year is going to be a completely different thing.”

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Not a case of the Honda engine beginning to come good after being abandoned?