Helmut Marko tips Alpine to take the fight to Fernando Alonso in Jeddah
Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko believes that the battle for ‘best-of-the-rest’ behind his team at the Saudi Arabian GP will see Alpine and Fernando Alonso playing key roles.
The first stop of the F1 2023 calendar, the Bahrain Grand Prix, was a story of Red Bull domination as Max Verstappen claimed pole and then a comfortable victory, with Sergio Perez ensuring a one-two finish for the team.
As for the driver completing that particular podium, it was Alonso sparking the wild celebrations over at Aston Martin as he claimed that P3 spot, albeit 39 seconds behind Verstappen.
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It is Verstappen though who spoke of anticipating fiercer competition at Round 2 in Saudi Arabia, and while he would top both Friday practice sessions, Alonso cut the Dutchman’s advantage to two-tenths by the end of FP2.
It is very likely though that Red Bull are still keeping pace in reserve to unleash come qualifying, as was the case in Bahrain, and it must be noted that Alonso had topped FP2 and FP3 in Bahrain before qualifying P5.
So, Marko does not seem to believe that Red Bull will be facing much of a challenge at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, but does expect plenty of competition behind, though one of the teams he mentioned are a surprise entrant into this conversation.
The team in question are Alpine, who following a troubled opening weekend in Bahrain, had said that they were in a situation where they still did not really know the actual performance level of their A523.
And their Friday pace in Jeddah suggested that it is pretty promising, Esteban Ocon having claimed P4 in FP2, four-tenths off Verstappen’s time, while the Dutchman’s former team-mate Pierre Gasly was P6, half a second adrift.
Marko then believes Alpine and Alonso, who left Alpine at the end of 2022, are in for a great battle in Jeddah, while Ferrari may also get involved. There was no mention of Mercedes, George Russell having ended Friday in P5 and Lewis Hamilton P11.
Ferrari meanwhile squeezed into the top 10, though Marko believes that the Scuderia are yet to turn up their engine. Charles Leclerc will drop 10 places on the Jeddah grid, meaning Carlos Sainz is their best hope.
“Ferrari has a little more in the engine,” Marko told Sky Germany. “Behind us, at least it’s going to be an exciting fight between Alpine and Fernando Alonso – and to some extent Ferrari.”
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Red Bull do not have all the answers to their race weekend just yet though, Marko saying that they split the tyre strategy for Verstappen and Perez during their FP2 long runs as Red Bull still are not sure whether the C3 medium or C4 soft tyre is best for the race.
Verstappen had been lapping on the soft rubber, while Perez had the medium.
“We are satisfied and we have found the right adjustment for the car,” Marko confirmed.
“As for the choice of tyres, we still have to take a look at what is better for the race. That’s why we put Verstappen and Perez on different compounds with the long runs.”