It was a short-lived Chinese Grand Prix for the McLaren-Honda team at the Shanghai International Circuit as none of its drivers managed to finish the race due to reliability issues. Stoffel Vandoorne's car was affected by a fuel problem which forcing him to retire on lap 18, while Fernando Alonso's car suffered a driveshaft issue causing him to have to stop out on track on lap 34.
The rain earlier in the day meant that the track was pretty damp for the start, both drivers consequently electing to start on new Intermediate tyres. On lap two, as the circuit was rapidly drying out, the team executed the perfect ‘double shuffle’, pitting the drivers for Prime tyres.
After being released back into the pack, Alonso soon reached sixth position by lap seven before settling into seventh place for a number of laps.
“We started from P13 in very tricky conditions, and after a few laps we were running in sixth position," said Alonso. "That was a big surprise and was thanks to an amazing couple of laps. I was hoping those tricky conditions would continue as other cars were spinning off here and there, and, as we said yesterday, we maximised our opportunities as we were overtaking ‘for free’ at some moments.
“But then, when the track started drying out, we started to lose a little bit of ground even though we were still able to hold onto P7 for some time.
“Today we proved once more how hungry we are to get a good result, but unfortunately we’re still not strong enough to finish the races. The lack of winter testing means we’re paying a big price now, but hopefully we can improve quickly.
“It’s a shame that neither Stoffel or I could not get to the end today, and especially painful because I was in the points, but all we can do is learn our lessons and be a little bit better in Bahrain, even though the forecast is of course for no rain…”
Even if his race ended after 17 laps only, Vandoorne enjoyed him time on track and extracted some positive keys out of the weekend.
“It was a short race for me, but quite exciting at the beginning," Vandoorne concluded. "Both Fernando and I got good starts, and were in the mix for the first few laps, although the positioning wasn’t great after the pit-stops, and then after that it was a bit more tricky, but our pace was actually quite promising. When we put the slicks on, we were actually quite competitive and I was able to push when I wanted to.
"The car feels very good in the corners – I felt very confident and I was closing the gap to the guys in front – but as soon as it started to get drier, we really noticed the difference in speed and it made it very difficult to overtake. With the straight-line speed we have, we can’t really compete with the others and it’s tough out there for us to make up ground.
“On lap 17 we lost power – I don’t really know exactly the reason – but I think it was a fuel problem. It’s a shame we couldn’t get to the finish today – the potential was there and the car felt quite competitive in the corners compared to the cars I was racing against. I felt the power drop and I could feel immediately we had very low power. It’s not ideal, and obviously I would have liked to go to the end.
“There’s not been many laps for me in China, but this is the situation we’re in at the moment. We knew that before coming here and hopefully next weekend in Bahrain it will be better. There are still positives we can take away: the chassis is coming along, and both Fernando and I are feeling very confident to push. I hope it will get better soon – it’s difficult to put a time-frame on it so we’ll have to wait and see. Bahrain is a very different kind of circuit from Shanghai, and we’ll do our best as usual.”