Fernando Alonso says qualifying fifth ahead of both Mercedes cars in his first race for Aston Martin felt “too good to be true”.
The Spaniard will start the Bahrain Grand Prix behind only the Red Bulls and Ferrari for the team that finished seventh in the 2022 standings.
Alonso said: “It was amazing. It was too good to be true every session.
To be in the top five and fight with Ferrari and Mercedes seems a little unreal.”
The 41-year-old has been in pole position since the start of the weekend at Sahira in his first race for his new team, which has developed what he described as a “brand new car” for 2023.
He qualified 0.628 seconds behind Red Bull pole winner Max Verstappen, just 0.336 seconds behind third-placed Ferrari Charles Leclerc and 0.004 seconds ahead of Mercedes driver George Russell in fifth.
Ferrari struggles with excessive tire wear during long races, and Alonso said he and Aston Martin believe fighting for a podium place in Sunday’s race is possible.
“Again, it’s so amazing that we’re starting P5 and maybe we’re aiming for more,” he said.
“We thought, to be honest, that the top three teams were untouchable this year with the advantage they had last year.
“But now we’re starting P5 and fighting Ferrari for the podium and it’s just incredible. Let’s keep going, stay grounded, have a race without mistakes and see where we are.”
Alonso also praised team-mate Lance Stroll, who qualified eighth despite suffering two broken wrists and a broken toe in a bike crash two weeks ago that forced him to miss pre-season testing.
“Impressive,” said Alonso. “I congratulate him for every lap he does because it’s not easy what he does.
“It shows how determined he is to achieve good results and a good career in Formula 1, his passion for the sport, which is sometimes not sold as well because Lawrence [Стролл, батько Ленса] is the owner [команди]but this weekend he’s showing a lot of things to everyone.”
Hamilton is “happy” for Alonso
Alonso’s return to a near-contending position has been greeted with delight in the Formula 1 paddock after 10 years of watching the man considered a legend of the sport struggle in uncompetitive cars.
Lewis Hamilton, who was just 0.044s slower than Mercedes team-mate Russell in seventh, said: “I’m really happy for Aston. It’s amazing to see their progress, the steps they’ve taken.
“I’m really happy for Fernando because he’s been here a lot longer than me and it’s good to have him back in the mix. Hopefully we’ll get some good races.”
Hamilton admitted Aston Martin’s progress highlighted his own team’s inability to make the strides they expected this season.
Aston Martin buys the engine, gearbox and rear suspension from Mercedes. They design their own aerodynamics using a Mercedes wind tunnel.
“They’ve got almost the whole back of our car, they’ve got half of our car,” Hamilton said. “So it’s definitely not great for us.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff added: “Whatever is between us and pole is less important because now Fernando is there, we can only take our hats off to what they have achieved.
“They gained two seconds in half a year and their car is half ours, from the engine, gearbox and rear suspension, and [використовуючи] the same wind tunnel. We just have to admit that they did an outstanding job.”
Mercedes needs to rethink its car
Both Hamilton and Wolff admitted that the Mercedes car lacked aerodynamic performance, and the seven-time champion is concerned that this will affect his chances of progressing in the race, as it could lead to a significant deterioration in tire quality.
“We lack overall downforce, especially at the rear,” Hamilton said. “That’s why we can’t get as much power as the Red Bulls and Ferrari on the same lap, and that’s why we struggle with [шинами]. So, it’s the same story as in previous years. Until last year, we had better rear grip.”
Mercedes have stuck to their zerosidepod design philosophy this year, which is unique to the grid, and Wolff said he believes they will have to change tactics if they want to compete for wins.
“I don’t think this package will become competitive over time,” Wolff said. “We’ve done everything we can and now we need to regroup and sit down with the engineers and not be dogmatic – there are no sacred cows – and decide which direction we want to go in order to be competitive and win. races
“We have achieved our goals [розвитку], and it showed us that it just wasn’t good enough. We don’t have enough downforce. We need to find a solution to fix this.
“We made a mistake last year. We thought we could fix that by sticking with this concept car, but it didn’t work. So we just need to focus on what we think might be the right direction.
“We got the physics wrong and now we need to fix it because there are still three years of this [технічного] regulation”.