Fernando Alonso, billed as a “very special racer”, will bring the spice to not only Aston Martin but Formula 1 this season, and the sport “needs that”, says Gerhard Berger.
While Max Verstappen raced away with the season-opening victory in Bahrain, the reigning World Champion untouchable on the night, new Aston Martin signing Alonso was the Driver of the Day.
The Spaniard pulled off three incredible overtakes, including one on seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, as he raced his way from seventh at the end of the opening lap to third at the chequered flag.
Bagging the team’s first podium since 2021, the 41-year-old is being tipped to have many more champagne celebrations before the year is out.
“Fernando is a very special racer,” former F1 driver Berger said as per Motorsport.com.
“I’ve been a real fan of his for many, many years. The way he races, the way he reads races, how he overtakes. He’s just a top man.
“If he’d had a top team one time or another, with a car that had worked, then he would have won the World Championship many more times.
“Now he has another real highlight.
“He came to Aston Martin, the car works and he will also be the pepper in the soup. He will twirl around quite a bit up front and Formula 1 needs that.”
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Aston Martin on an ‘equal footing’ with Mercedes
Although Bahrain was just the opening grand prix of the season, the Sakhir race did give Formula 1 an idea as to this year’s pecking order. Or at the very least the early season form.
While Red Bull are in a class of their own, with fears the Milton Keynes squad could win every one of this year’s 23 races, Berger reckons Ferrari are P2 with Aston Martin tied with Mercedes for third place.
“Aston Martin did a good job over the winter, no question about it,” he added.
“If my information is correct, there are now one or two Red Bull men at Aston Martin who may have brought something with them. That refreshes the whole thing.
“Of course we have Red Bull right up there again as a benchmark behind them Ferrari and then Aston Martin with Mercedes on an equal footing. That’s an interesting mix.”
Aston Martin downplaying expectations
But while everyone is talking about Aston Martin, the team has been trying to downplay expectations.
Although Alonso was third at the Sakhir circuit, the Spaniard was almost 40s down on race winner Verstappen.
“I think the gap is still substantial,” team boss Mike Krack told the media including PlanetF1.com after the Bahrain Grand Prix. “We don’t know how much management that Red Bull had to do and did.
“I think it was quite comfortable for them to just get the mandatory tyres through and cruise the race to the end. So I think we have now one good result, we have improved our car.
“But we are fighting here with teams that are used to drive on the front, they are very used to high-intensity development. So I think let’s be respectful and humble, and see how it continues.”