Upbeat Alonso insists McLaren is taking big steps forward

Fernando Alonso will make his season debut this weekend in Malaysia.

Fernando Alonso had a solid first day back in the McLaren-Honda as he logged 45 relatively troublefree laps in Malaysia.

He finished FP2 in 16th – a place ahead teammate Jenson Button – and the only drivers who were slower than the McLaren duo were Romain Grosjean, who did very few laps before he was sidelined by a technical issue, and the two Manor drivers. Nevertheless Alonso is pleased with progress.

"It felt great today in the car," he said. "Finally after the gym, after the simulator, whatever you do it is never the same as the car, so I enjoyed so much driving here. The conditions obviously are extreme, very hot, and physically it is very demanding. I am not 100 percent physically and fit after two weeks on the sofa, and two weeks of not in the car.

"It was really the second day of testing for me because I have one good day in Barcelona with 63 laps and today 45. The rest of the days were 7 laps, 9, 11, so today I really enjoyed it. Definitely a step forward, a big step forward for us

"It’s much better. The experience that we had in winter was a lot of problems, after four or five laps we stopped and we had to change something, but today we ran 45 laps with zero problems, everything went as we predict. We will see tomorrow in qualifying. We were I think 4.6s behind pole position in Australia, here could maybe be 3 to 3.5secs, so that is a 1 or 1.5s gain in two weeks, so it’s a big step forward.

Regarding the latest updates he said: "I think there are a lot of things going on in the car now. There are big steps on aerodynamics, a lot of understanding of the power unit, interaction between everything in the car. Every lap is a learning curve for us. In terms of driving, I felt great. The car is very consistent, the car is easy to drive, and it gives you confidence to push to the limit.

"We had some issues today on braking, with front and rear locking that was a little bit inconsistent, and we are looking at this. Hopefully tomorrow we can push more."