Fernando Alonso focusing on Ferrari, Mercedes and Alpine with Red Bull ‘in another league’

Jamie Woodhouse
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, in the paddock. F1 Saudi Arabia, March 2023.

Fernando Alonso,Aston Martin, in the paddock after qualifying. Saudi Arabia, March 2023.

Fernando Alonso starts alongside Red Bull’s Sergio Perez on the front row in Jeddah, but does not expect to be mounting a challenge for the win.

Red Bull had been predicting that the pack would reel them in for the Saudi Arabian GP having dominated the Bahrain season-opener, but the Bahrain victor Max Verstappen was giving reason to believe the opposite was true as he topped all three practice sessions.

His domination continued into qualifying, and it looked like only a minor miracle in the eyes of his rivals could possibly stop him from taking pole in Jeddah. And a miracle is what the distant chasing pack received.

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Verstappen would suffer a driveshaft failure during Q2, this bringing his session and participation in qualifying to an early end as he comes to terms with a P15 starting spot, while Perez went on to ensure that there is a Red Bull on pole in Jeddah, making it back-to-back pole positions for himself at this venue.

Alonso qualified P3 in the Aston Martin, 0.465s off Perez’s P1 time, though he will start P2 due to a 10-place grid penalty for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

And while Alonso does not want to sound “pessimistic”, he quite simply cannot see a way that Aston Martin can take the fight to Red Bull during the race, and so will instead look to keep Ferrari, Mercedes and Alpine behind at bay.

That is unless of course, Red Bull run into any further unexpected roadblocks on Sunday.

“I don’t know [if we can beat Perez] – I think we are not in that position yet,” Alonso told media personnel after qualifying.

“On pure pace, I think Red Bull is in another league and I think we have to concentrate more on the teams behind. So Ferrari will be very strong, Mercedes are strong, also Alpine – they are fast here.

“I think our race is just behind us. We saw today Max probably was in his league today in qualifying and he could not complete the qualifying with a mechanical issue.

“Even if we focus on our mirrors and try to keep the people behind, if anything happens in front, we will try to take the opportunity.

“I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but if we see the pace in free practice, and in Bahrain, we have to be honest with ourselves and know that Red Bull is a little bit ahead of everyone.

“That’s not the target tomorrow, to fight for the win with Checo. But, as I said before, Formula 1 is not exact mathematics, you know, anything can happen and today, Verstappen was P15. These things happen sometimes.”

It is a big plus though for Aston Martin that Alonso sees race pace as their strength, that proving to be true in Bahrain where he passed Mercedes’ George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, plus Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz on his way to a podium finish.

In that sense then, Alonso was delighted to have improved his qualifying position by a couple of places on the P5 he achieved in Bahrain.

“It has been a very good weekend for us,” he said. “Qualifying was our weak point in Bahrain, but today the car seemed to perform very well on one lap.

“Obviously Charles has a penalty so we’ll start on the first row of the grid, so this is just amazing.

“The long run yesterday was affected by traffic, but the car felt very strong. Still I think the strongest point of the car is the long-run pace and how we treat the tyres, so it should be better on Sunday than Saturday.”

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Lance Stroll will launch from P5 in the other Aston Martin, and admitted to feeling some frustration as he reckons there was still time left on the table in qualifying.

“A bit annoying, I felt like there was some more lap time in it at the end,” he told Sky F1. “I messed up in Turn 22, purple Sector 1 and then it kind of went wrong, so a bit annoying, but still a good position to fight from tomorrow.”

Nonetheless, while Alonso is looking over his shoulder, Stroll plans on being one of the drivers on his radar as he pursues a podium finish.

“I think it’s definitely possible,” said Stroll on the prospect of making it into the top three. “I think we’ll have good race pace, so we’ve got to get by the Ferrari in front of us and the Mercedes and go score some good points.”