Fernando Alonso cautious over McLaren's 'brutal gap' to the front

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Fernando Alonso is taking a cautious mindset into the 2017 season due to McLaren's "brutal gap" to the front in recent seasons, though he is refusing to rule out victories.

McLaren has struggled since Alonso joined in 2015, which coincided with the team switching to Honda power. Despite a big step forward last year, McLaren still finished sixth -- a big step down from the front of the field and the class-leading Mercedes outfit.

Despite big regulation changes for this season, which could shake up the order, Alonso is keeping last year's big gap to Mercedes in mind when looking ahead to the upcoming campaign.

"Victories? I think we have to be cautious," Alonso said in a Q&A with fans on Instagram. "I have read that Zak [Brown, McLaren CEO] said this year that it will be difficult to win, well... who knows? I keep positive.

"I'm better than ever, I'm preparing as never before and I'm going to go for it. Who knows what will really happen, I'm going to do it all. We have to be careful [because] in the races at the end of last year we were a second or a second and a half off Mercedes.

"It's a brutal gap and we must be cautious. We will see the result at the end. It is too early to make predictions."

Alonso thinks Mercedes will still be the team to beat this year.

"Surely Mercedes are on a trajectory to lead having won the last three world championship as they have done. Then Red Bull will adapt well to the new rules, but we will have to see how we all adapt. We really do not know still. F1 is always an unknown, but this year that is even more so."

The new rules could be crucial in determining Alonso's future beyond 2017, which is the final year of his McLaren contract. The Spaniard has been frustrated with the recent iterations of Formula One cars, which have required lots of fuel and tyre management and have been criticised for the amount of driver aids involved.

When asked in the Q&A if this would be his final year in F1, he simply said: "We'll see. We'll go step by step."