Fernando Alonso did not wish to talk up McLaren’s chances of reaching Q3 for the first time this season in Baku this weekend, saying the team will struggle to overcome its straight-line speed deficit compared to its Formula 1 midfield rivals.

Alonso has scored points in every race so far this season for McLaren, yet the Spaniard has not started from inside the top 10, dropping out in second stage of qualifying in Australia, Bahrain and China.

One of McLaren’s biggest weaknesses has been the straight-line speed of its MCL33 car, leaving the team on the back foot in Azerbaijan given the Baku City Circuit’s long straights.

“Here as in Bahrain, it was quite a difficult grand prix for us in the past years. Obviously we had some limitations on the power side, but it seems that this year we still have quite a slow car on the straights,” Alonso said.

“But hopefully we can improve that. We have different philosophies and different tests to do on Friday to try and get some extra speed. Hopefully we minimise that deficit.

“If we look at the times, over the last two years, it was quite significant, the distance with pole position. I think it was around four seconds slower last year. I think we need to hopefully do a better job and be close to these times.

“We’ve never been in Q3 so far this year. I think it’s going to be difficult again this weekend, but hopefully we are a little bit closer.”

Alonso reiterated that he did not expect a dramatic change in form for McLaren in Baku, but was hopeful of capitalising on any in-race incidents, such as those in 2017 that shook up the pecking order.

“I don’t expect any big things happening this weekend,” Alonso said. “Part of the nature of the circuit and the unpredictable race that you may have here in terms of Safety Cars, in terms of it being a tricky circuit.

“Let’s just see what the race is on Sunday. The middle group is going up and down in terms of positions sometimes with the dominant forces of Haas, Renault and McLaren. We’ll see what is the position here.

“But as I said, it’s difficult to predict. I think at the end of the day on Sunday, things level up a little bit.

“Maybe on Saturdays things will look a bit better or worse for different teams, but then on Sunday, we come back always to the similar finishing positions.

“Here will be another time like that.”

 

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