SEPANG: Fernando Alonso`s first race of the season ended with a 21st lap retirement at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday but the Spaniard saw positive progress at misfiring McLaren.
Alonso missed the season opener in Australia two weeks ago on medical grounds after a crash in testing last month and Sunday marked his race return to the team he had an unhappy campaign with in 2007.
The Honda-powered team were way off the pace in Melbourne, team mate Jenson Button finishing 11th and last, but Alonso had battled up to ninth before he was called into the pits by engineers.
"It went better than expected," the double world champion told reporters. "To be able to run with the pack and even catching the Red Bulls at the end before the pitstops was a nice surprise."
McLaren have begun a new partnership with Honda, who have struggled to get their V6 turbo hybrid power unit running reliably.
The team hit repeated problems in pre-season testing, completing far fewer laps than others with the cars well off the pace.
"We had some technical issues that we are still investigating but this is normally what you find in winter testing," said Alonso, who joined McLaren from Ferrari.
"Because we didn`t have winter testing, unfortunately, we will find this in the first couple of races but it definitely has been a very nice weekend for me and a very nice surprise how the team progressed from Australia to here.
"If we keep this rate we will enjoy it very soon."
Button also retired from Sunday`s race at Sepang.