SHANGHAI (Reuters) - French Formula One driver Pierre Gasly has said he meant no disrespect to Fernando Alonso after mimicking the Spaniard in a radio exchange when he finished fourth for Honda-powered Toro Rosso in Bahrain last Sunday.
Alonso, a double world champion, endured three difficult seasons with under-performing and unreliable Honda engines until his McLaren team finally switched to Renault power at the end of last year.
“Now we can fight,” he had said over the radio when he finished fifth in last month’s opener in Australia.
Gasly used the same words on Sunday, after a floodlit race for which he had also qualified ahead of both the McLaren drivers.
The 22-year-old was voted ‘Driver of the Day’ for his performance but his whooped comment over the radio drew a backlash from Spanish fans.
“It was simple, it was just a little joke, that’s it,” Gasly told reporters on Thursday ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix.
“I have huge respect for Fernando so I’m just making it clear,” he said, adding that the comment was intended to lift Honda’s spirits.
“In the end, they have had a tough three years with McLaren and to finish P4 in the second race with them was just amazing, so it was a way to give them credit,” added Gasly, who is in his first full season.
Honda have looked much more competitive since they teamed up with Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso, the partnership getting off to a strong start immediately in testing.
Gasly’s showing in Bahrain equalled Toro Rosso’s second-best ever result to date and was also better than anything McLaren managed with Honda in the last three years.
Alonso was seventh and Belgian team mate Stoffel Vandoorne eighth in Bahrain, with both cars ending up a lap down on Ferrari’s winner Sebastian Vettel.
The former champions are third in the overall team standings, however, helped by retirements for rivals Red Bull, with Alonso fourth in the drivers’ rankings.
“We were pretty slow in Melbourne, we were very competitive in Bahrain, even faster than what we expected, so it’s still difficult for us to know exactly where is the performance of the car,” said Gasly.
“I think this weekend will be a good opportunity... definitely to judge our baseline and see if the potential is the same on other tracks.”
Editing by Alan Baldwin and Toby Davis