Alonso has fun in Chinese GP, but fails to finish as McLaren woes continue

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Fernando Alonso said he had fun during Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix after charging into the top 10 early on, only to retire from the race after 33 laps as McLaren’s Formula 1 woes continued.

A miserable pre-season marred by numerous issues with the Honda power unit made Alonso’s flirtation with a top-10 finish in Australia a surprise for McLaren, as was his charge to 13th in qualifying on Saturday in China.

Alonso made the most of the tricky conditions in the early part of the race to battle up the order, running as high as sixth before the track dried and the pace deficit to the rest of the field became clear once again.

Alonso was able to remain inside the top 10 until he was forced to retire from the race after 33 laps with a suspected driveshaft issue, marking his second straight DNF.

When asked by NBCSN if he had fun in the race, Alonso said: “Yeah definitely. We started P13 in very tricky conditions, and we were running P6 after three laps, so yeah.

“I was hoping for stable conditions as they were, because people were spinning off here and there. We maximized our opportunities and when the track was drying up, we started to lose a little bit of ground, but we remained P7, which obviously we were completely out of position.”

Alonso was disappointed that the Honda power unit’s reliability means McLaren cannot yet think about having a clean weekend, putting this down to its lack of running in pre-season testing.

“As we said yesterday, every opportunity that will be there, we will take it. Today we proved once more how hungry we are about getting the result,” Alonso said.

“Unfortunately we are not strong enough to finish the race still. I think the lack of winter testing is a big price that we are paying now. But we will try to improve as soon as possible.”

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.