Third race of the season, third podium. For the first time since September 2013, in almost ten years, Fernando Alonso was back on the podium in three consecutive races at the start of the 2023 Formula 1 season.
After the Spaniard had previously finished third twice behind the two Red Bull drivers, he dueled with his old rival Lewis Hamilton for second place behind Max Verstappen last weekend in Melbourne.
“I tried to put some pressure on, but he drove an incredible race, made no mistakes at all – as you would expect from a champion like him,” Alonso praised his former team-mate.
“I think he only had one brake in turn 13 in 58 laps,” reports Alonso, explaining that he was “very close” to Hamilton. “But every time I tried to get closer, he seemed to pick up the pace a bit.”
Alonso gets two places for free
The starting point of the duel between the two world champions was the start. Hamilton and Alonso started the race side by side from the second row. In turn 2, the Spaniard was already next to the Mercedes for a short time.
But because he then ran out of space, he ultimately even lost a position to Carlos Sainz and was initially only fifth. “In the beginning, of course, we were lucky with the first red flag because George [Russell] and Carlos came into the pits,” he admits.
“We benefited from that,” knows the Spaniard, who was given two places as a gift due to the interruption and was allowed to restart the race from third on the grid. Hamilton was even in first place ahead of Verstappen.
Because the Dutchman passed Hamilton a short time later and was able to gain a lead, the duel between the two former McLaren teammates for second place then developed.
Never close enough to attack
“Mercedes was very quick and Lewis did an incredible job today,” reports Alonso, while Hamilton claims that the Aston Martin was actually the faster car. A thesis that Alonso “probably” goes along with.
“When you’re 50 laps within two seconds behind the car in front of you, it’s normal that you could drive a little faster. With free driving you could probably be two or three tenths faster per lap,” explains the Spaniard.
“But in the end I couldn’t get any closer than that, so I think our pace was very similar,” said Alonso. Because even if he was slightly faster than Hamilton, it was never enough to get into the Brit’s DRS window.
Alonso also emphasizes that after the restart he had “some doubts” about whether the tires would last until the end of the race, “because we missed the long runs and everything in FT2.” It rained in Melbourne on Friday afternoon.
Instead of a “possibility”, a restart almost becomes a catastrophe
At the restart, almost all drivers had put on the hard tires in order to drive through to the end. In the end, the condition of the tires was “better than expected,” said Alonso. But that was still unclear during the race.
And anyway, the tires didn’t matter anymore in the end because the red flag was shown again after Kevin Magnussen’s accident. Alonso reveals that he saw the second restart as a “possibility” to overtake Hamilton after all.
“In the last start, to be honest, I was pretty sure that I could finish second because our starts were very strong. And that was a good start again, I was already missing in turn 1,” reports Alonso.
But instead of attacking Hamilton, he was hit by compatriot Sainz and spun. In the end, he was lucky that the start no longer played any role in the final result, because shortly afterwards the red flag was shown a third time.
Red flag: Alonso’s “rollercoaster ride of emotions”
“We had a rollercoaster of emotions today,” admits Alonso, who briefly feared he had lost his podium in the Sainz incident. “In the last half hour it was difficult to understand what was happening,” he admits.
Eventually, race control decided to go back to the order from the previous restart after the third red flag. Alonso thus retained his third place, because the last lap of the race was only completed behind the safety car.
“The race itself was good for us in terms of pace,” sums up Alonso – even if he was ultimately unable to beat Hamilton. Because the race was “not easy” because of the numerous interruptions.
When asked what his goal is for the next races after three third places, the Spaniard replies with a grin: “To be a bit higher on the podium!” He now wants to finish second “at least” once.
Krack jokes: Should have won all the races!
Team boss Mike Krack is also in a good mood after the race in Melbourne and jokingly answers the question of whether Alonso has met Aston Martin’s expectations so far: “No, he would have all three [Rennen] should win!”
Seriously again, he explains: “If someone had told me before that we would have three podiums after the first three races, I would not have believed it either. But it also shows what a champion we have there. He is just incredible .”
Above all, the team boss praises Alonso’s “consistency” and explains: “If you look at all the sessions this year, then he was always there, in every single session, in every FT1 and FT2. He’s always at the front and pushes all the time at the maximum.”
The Spaniard has driven “fantastic” so far, according to Krack. Alonso clinched his last Formula 1 victory on May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. That was almost ten years ago now…