Alonso steals the show as F1 season begins in Bahrain
Fernando Alonso started his 20th season in Formula One with a strong opening day of practice at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Alonso was fastest in Friday’s second practice in his new Aston Martin ride, following up on the morning session when the 41-year-old Spaniard was second fastest.
At the end of the day, he joked he has another decade left of racing in him.
“Maybe three, maybe five, maybe seven or whatever years (left),” Alonso said. “There are no secrets. You dedicate your life to your passion, you know your body better as well, so you train better, you eat better. You make your career longer.”
Alonso split the Red Bulls of Sergio Perez and two-time defending world champion Max Verstappen in the first practice, then led Verstappen and Perez in the second session.
A truer indicator of Alonso’s speed will be in Saturday’s qualifying session. The season-opening race Sunday finishes under floodlights in Sakhir.
The two-time F1 champion has 32 career wins but none since a victory for Ferrari in 2013. The second of his two titles was with Renault in 2006 — when Verstappen was a nine-year-old racing karts.
But Alonso could at least have a strong chance of adding to his 98 career podiums at his new team, which he joined this year after Sebastian Vettel’s retirement. He is teammates with Lance Stroll, the son of Aston’s executive chairman.
So far, relations are harmonious, which hasn’t always been the case with Alonso.
He parted on bad terms with Ferrari and endured a miserable four-year spell without a single podium at McLaren, where he was critical of the car’s performance and its engines.
He spent two years out of F1, winning the 24 Hours Le Mans endurance race again and twice raced the Indianapolis 500, before returning to F1 with Renault-powered Alpine in 2021.
His third place at the Qatar GP in late 2021 was his first podium since 2014. But he then stunned Alpine last summer when he announced he was joining Aston Martin to replace the four-time champion Vettel.
Alonso, who finished ninth in the standings last season without a single podium, is dreaming big again.
“We want to have a good baseline, a good platform to develop the car during 2023 and maybe fight for something bigger next year,” he said. “But step by step.”
Stroll surprised many observers by returning to race this weekend after missing preseason testing because of an injury in a bicycle accident. He needed minor surgery on his right wrist.
The Canadian driver said he did simulator work to prepare and was sixth fastest in both sessions.
FEELING EVEN BETTER
Verstappen entered the season feeling “100%” better than last year.
That’s quite worrying for other drivers, considering he crushed the competition last year with a record 15 wins. He beat Charles Leclerc of Ferrari for the title with four races remaining in the season.
Verstappen was asked if he felt more confident coming into the season-opener this time around.
“What you have learned throughout the whole year, last year, gives you a much better understanding of the car,” he said.
The Dutchman is only 25 years old but has 35 wins. That’s only six behind F1 great Ayrton Senna, who is fifth on the all-time list, and Frenchman Alain Prost is fourth with 51.
But Red Bull’s relentless drive for improvement means that Verstappen could realistically overtake Senna and be within distance of Prost at the end of the 23-race season.
“I think we’re never satisfied,” he said. “You always want to do better.”
Unless other teams close the gap quickly, Red Bull’s biggest challenge could come from within.
“We have to stay on top of things and we cannot afford to make too many mistakes,” he said. “I mean, we’re not robots, everyone makes mistakes, but you tried to minimise it.”
GLOW WITH THE FLO
Mercedes said it added fluorescent yellow to Lewis Hamilton’s protective halo device and fluorescent green to George Russell’s halo to make them easier for onboard recognition.
The seven-time F1 champion Hamilton, who failed to win a race last season for the first time, was cleared to race by stewards after a jewelry inspection.
OTHER PRACTICE RESULTS
Leclerc was fifth in the first practice and fourth in P2.
Hamilton was 10th in first practice ahead of his Mercedes teammate George Russell. Hamilton improved to eighth in second practice, with Russell 13th.
American newcomer Logan Sargeant was last in second practice for Williams behind AlphaTauri’s new driver Nyck de Vries.
Ferrari is hoping for more consistency under new leadership after Frédéric Vasseur replaced Mattia Binotto after a troubled season marred by botched team orders.
Carlos Sainz Jr. and Leclerc gave Ferrari back-to-back wins in July but didn’t win the rest of 2022.
The Ferrari’s rear wing wobbled in first practice, where Sainz had a big spin, and Leclerc complained of clutch problems early in second practice.
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