Pierre Gasly has explained that a Fernando Alonso – related joke he made on the radio to Toro Rosso after finishing fourth in Bahrain was to give Honda the credit it deserved.

Moments after scoring Honda’s best result since it returned to F1 in 2015, on the Japanese manufacturer’s second start with Toro Rosso, Gasly thanked his team for an “unbelievable” job and declared “now we can fight”.

That was a reference to Alonso saying the same thing after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, when he finished fifth for McLaren on its first race with Renault power after three difficult seasons with Honda.

“It was just a little joke – that is it,” said Gasly. “I just I think we need to give credit back to Honda.

“In the end, they had a really tough three years with McLaren and to finish fourth in our second race with them was just amazing.

“It was a way to give back to them credit because they are working really hard. They need credit for the hard work they are doing.”

Gasly stressed that the message was not meant to ridicule Alonso and revealed that he had “some tough message” from Spanish fans on social media, which he called “quite crazy”.

“I have huge respect for Fernando,” Gasly added. “Fernando is one of the best drivers in all time in F1, one of my idols.

“It was nothing related to him personally it was a comment for Honda because I think they deserve the credit.”

Honda reacted to a difficult first race with Toro Rosso with modified parts for Bahrain to improve reliability, and it is planning on stepping up the development of the engine’s performance in the coming weeks.

China’s Shanghai circuit features a very long back straight, one of the longest in F1, which could leave Toro Rosso more exposed as the weakness of Honda’s energy recovery system has previously left it low on top speed.

Gasly said his car was “fantastic” as Toro Rosso topped the midfield battle in Bahrain but admitted “it’s not going to be as easy” when asked by jamesnews.com what it could expect this weekend.

“The track layout is for sure not one of our favourites,” he added. “But still you need to have a really strong car in the middle part of the track.

“I think we can still expect to be competitive. We were pretty slow in Melbourne, we were very competitive in Bahrain, even faster than expected, so it’s difficult to know exactly where is the performance of the car.

“We are going to be in the fight for the midfield and hopefully on top of it.”