Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin walked away from the 2023 season opener with a stunning podium finish after the team diverted the hype around the test and practice performance at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Fifth in qualifying, behind only the Red Bull and Ferrari machines, Alonso used his tenacious race car and capitalized on the retirement of Charles Leclerc to move into the top three during Sunday night’s meeting.
MORE READ: Verstappen leads Bahrain’s season opener 2-1 as Leclerc retires and Alonso finishes final on the podium in style
His climb was marked by some exciting clippings with the Mercedes pairing of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton – a multi-lap battle between the world champions ending in Alonso’s favour via a clever transition into Turn 10.
Once clear of the W14s, Alonso set his sights on fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz, completing a DRS-assisted pass down the back straight in the closing stages to follow the two Red Bull drivers and spark euphoric scenes in the Aston Martin camp.
Speaking after the race, Alonso said: “It’s a perfect start for this project. We didn’t expect to be this competitive. I think the goal in 2023 was to mix with the midfield, maybe lead the midfield and get close to the top three teams eventually.”
2023 Bahrain Grand Prix: Key moves that saw Alonso race to the podium in Aston Martin debut
“Even a podium may not have been on the radar in 2023, and today we found ourselves with the second best car in Bahrain, all weekend, right behind Red Bull. This is a bit of a surprise, but we are very proud and pleased with the work that has been done at Silverstone at the factory. .
“Congratulations to everyone. Let’s enjoy this moment and build from here, hopefully the 2023 campaign will be good, and we’ll get closer and closer to the big players.”
Read more: ‘We’re fourth fastest team now’ – Hamilton gives Mercedes honest assessment as he admits team ‘falling backwards’
Asked about the need for Aston Martin to reset its targets for next season, Alonso continued: “Let’s see. I had that same feeling from the test, like it’s too good to be true, and you always expect that … you’ll take a step back and you’ll come back to reality.” But the performance looks real.
“Let’s see in Jeddah. I’m curious to go to Jeddah and Australia – very different tracks. I think in Bahrain we were strong in things that we probably wouldn’t find in Jeddah and Australia. If we’re strong in the next two races, I think we’ll have a very good 2023.”
As for the clippings with Hamilton and Sainz – which followed a ‘lucky’ escape for Alonso on the first lap when teammate Lance Stroll tagged him under braking at Turn 4 – the two-time world champion was elated to be back on the blistering finish.
“Obviously I enjoyed that, because I finish on the front, and that’s always the same in any battle. It’s always the same when you’re fighting on the front. With these great drivers, great champions, it’s a little more intense, a little more adrenaline, when you’re wheel for wheel. “.
Read more: Leclerc calls on Ferrari to ‘get it wrong’ after painful retirement at the Bahrain GP
“I didn’t want to make a mistake or make any contact because obviously when you’re on stage P12 you don’t lose anything but today we were fighting for big things. I was happy, the car was great to drive – that was probably our strength throughout the test and at the end this week.
Although the race felt long [in] The last 10 laps, because I wanted to see the checkered flag and be on the podium, the car was very good to drive and I could have driven another hour or something, on my own on the track.”
Stroll finished sixth in the other Aston Martin, injuring both his wrists and feet in a pre-season practice accident, putting the team second in the constructors’ standings.
“Coffee ninja. Web fan. Hipster-friendly beer enthusiast. Professional creator.”