SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Former champions McLaren marked a breakthrough on their long road back up the Formula One pecking order with a first top- three race result since 2014 at the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Even if Spaniard Carlos Sainz did not actually stand on the podium, inheriting third place after six times champion Lewis Hamilton was demoted, there was still plenty of cause for celebration.
"It’s a weird first podium not being there straight after the race, but I’m extremely happy with our race today," said Sainz.
The 25-year-old Spaniard had started last on the grid after an engine problem in qualifying but made the most of a one-stop strategy.
The last time a McLaren driver stood on the podium was at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix of 2014 when Kevin Magnussen ended up second and Jenson Button third due to then Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo being disqualified from second.
The once-dominant team, that provided winning cars to a cast of champions including Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Lewis Hamilton, have not won a race since Button in Brazil in 2012.
Where double champion Fernando Alonso tried in vain, during his troubled second four-year stint at Woking with McLaren and Honda struggling together, his compatriot succeeded in his first season at what is now a Renault-powered team.
Sunday's result also secured fourth place in the constructors' standings, McLaren's highest finish since they were third overall in 2012.
McLaren are now 49 points clear of Renault's factory team, with one race remaining and a maximum 44 available.
"The achievement this year together with the podium today is the perfect motivation for all of us to keep working hard in order to score podiums again in the future for McLaren based on our own outright performance," said team boss Andreas Seidl.
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris)