While upbeat over the steady improvements that the new McLaren-Honda partnership has made since the pre-season, it counts for little if the cars don’t actually see the chequered flag, according to Fernando Alonso.

The Spaniard and his teammate Jenson Button will share the ninth row of Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix starting grid after both were eliminated in the opening phase of qualifying on Saturday.

The two-time champion will start from 18th place, edged out by Button by just four-thousandths of a second.

The pair was less than three-tenths of a second shy of making the Q2 cut – a feat the troubled MP4-30 is yet to achieve this season – although it was an improvement on the one-second margin the car had qualifying trim in Australia just four weeks ago.

“We were two tenths away from the mid-pack – and close to getting into Q2 – today,” Alonso said after qualifying.

“We’re getting there, and this is another step forward, but we’re still under-performing, so we need to keep improving.

“Our main priority now is to finish tomorrow’s race; that’ll allow us to learn more about the car and uncover any possible problems. Obviously, two non-finishes in Malaysia wasn’t an ideal situation for us, so, regardless of the result, we need to make the finish here in China.”

Jenson Button, McLaren Honda MP4-30 - 2015 Chinese Grand Prix

Button outqualified teammate Alonso by just 0.004 seconds, but admitted to being puzzled that he failed to make it into Q2.

Teammate Button was optimistic that he and Alonso would be more competitive in race conditions, and was aiming for a repeat of the improved pace they demonstrated at the preceding Malaysian Grand Prix.

“We’d found a reasonably good balance with the car, in fact, but the [one] lap time isn’t quite there yet,” the Englishman added.

“The cars in front of us seemed to make a big leap forward this afternoon – whereas we didn’t – so we’ll need to find out why that was.

“We’ve made some improvements this weekend, but qualifying just didn’t go our way. Hopefully, things will be better tomorrow, and we’ll be able to race some of the cars that will start in front of us on the grid.”

Images via McLaren

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Geoff Burke

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