Fernando Alonso ripping up the rulebook with Aston Martin move already vindicated

Sam Cooper
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, smiles. Bahrain, March 2023.

Fernando Alonso smiles after P3. Bahrain, March 2023.

When Fernando Alonso announced out of the blue that he would be swapping Alpine for Aston Martin questions were fairly raised as to whether this was a wise career move.

After all, if there is any driver in the history of Formula 1 who is known for his poor career choices, it is Alonso and this time seemed no different.

Almost seven months to the day of Alonso’s Bahrain podium triumph, Sebastian Vettel had just announced he would be retiring from the sport, freeing up his Aston Martin spot, and soon after, Alonso was revealed as the candidate who would fill it. It was a move few had been anticipating.

Having ticked over the age of 40, Alonso’s time in Formula 1 may have seemed like it was coming to an end and that is certainly the question Alpine were pondering.

Despite his performances since returning to the sport and with Oscar Piastri waiting in the wings, the French outfit were hesitant about handing Alonso his desired two-year contract extension. Aston Martin had no such concerns.

Alonso swapped the French blue of Alpine for the British racing green of Aston Martin in what many viewed as a step down. Alpine would go on to finish P4 in the 2022 Constructors’ while Aston Martin were languishing down in P7 having failed to recapture the speed that their predecessor Racing Point had unearthed.

But now, with tyre rubber still stuck to the Bahrain tarmac, the picture could not look more different. As early as the first day of testing, hype began to build around Aston Martin and they were a team that had certainly made all the right moves.

The arrivals of Dan Fallows, Eric Blandin and Martin Whitmarsh added some high level experience while work continues on upgrades to their Silverstone base that will lay the groundwork to move the team away from the lower depths of the midfield and into podium, maybe even winning, contention.

But Alonso was the final missing piece. For while Vettel was a more than competent driver, Alonso’s demanding nature was an aspect Aston Martin hoped would raise them to the next level. From as early as testing and then into free practice, it looked as if that was going to be the case.

Aston Martin themselves were trying to play the situation down at a time when the rest of the world was unfurling the ‘Alonso is back’ banners, but when the Spaniard put it top in both FP2 and FP3, there was little they could do to hold back the hysteria.

In qualifying, Alonso split the Ferraris and Mercedes while his team-mate Lance Stroll, who was driving with pins in his wrist and a broken toe having suffered a bike injury just a week before, managed P8, but the race itself began poorly for Alonso.

He soon found his old team-mate Lewis Hamilton sniffing around his gearbox and having almost been dive-bombed by Stroll, Alonso lost places to both the Silver Arrows – but perhaps it is a sign of how much confidence Alonso has in the AMR23 that he did not react angrily over the radio.

The next 55 laps were reminiscent of a boa constrictor suffocating its prey. George Russell was drawn in and dispatched, Hamilton would be too before Alonso breezed past his compatriot Carlos Sainz to move into the final podium position.

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Inside the cockpit, Alonso was like a kid at Christmas. “Bye bye” was the call as he overtook Sainz, joining the likes of “All the time you have to leave a space” and “Where is Palmer? Karma” in the pantheon of great Alonso radio moments.

And there was hardly an unhappy face in the paddock when Alonso crossed the line in P3, got out of his cockpit and pumped his fists as he stood upon what already looks like one of the quickest cars of his long career.

So, as the dust settles on the opening race of the 2023 season, it is Alonso and Aston Martin who find themselves in pole position to challenge the Red Bulls, who would have predicted that just seven months ago?

Alonso turns 42 this year, the oldest driver on the grid by three years and the most experienced one in the history of Formula 1, but he is ripping up the rulebook when it comes to what is the expected age of performance drop off and maybe, just maybe, Alonso has saved his smartest career move until the very end.

Alonso’s decision to leave Alpine and join Aston Martin has already been vindicated and judging by his and the team’s performance on Sunday, there is plenty more to come.