SAKHIR, Bahrain — Eight months after gambling on a move to Aston Martin, Fernando Alonso said he could not believe he has a car to fight for a podium at the Bahrain Grand Prix — even if Saturday’s qualifying performance didn’t quite live up to the hype of the last 24 hours.
Aston Martin’s blistering preseason form had many predicting they could turn F1’s Big Three into a Big Four this year, but Alonso’s practice pace had fans dreaming that the two-time world champion had a car to challenge Max Verstappen and Red Bull out in front.
The Spaniard had downplayed those suggestions and on Saturday evening Red Bull emerged comfortably ahead of the pack.
Alonso qualified fifth, behind the two Ferraris but ahead of the two Mercedes drivers.
When asked if he can fight for a podium Sunday, Alonso laughed and said: “Let’s see!
“I’m laughing because going for a podium in race one… It feels too good to be true.
“It feels so strange for me to say we are P5 and maybe we are aiming for more. We thought to be honest that the first three teams were untouchable this year with the advantage they had last year.
“Maybe try to lead the midfield or mix in the midfield… now we are saying we start P5 and maybe we fight with the Ferraris for the podium. This is just incredible. Let’s keep working, keep feet on the ground and execute the race in the best way possible, no mistakes, good start, good pit stops, let’s see where we are.
“But yeah, right now we are living a dream.”
Fernando Alonso will line up fifth on the grid for his Aston Martin debut. Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Image
Alonso’s decision to sign a contract with Aston Martin mid-way through 2022 for this season, leaving fourth-placed Alpine for a team which finished seventh, raised eyebrows at the time.
The Spaniard said this week the team knew it had something special on its hands, even if Red Bull always seemed out of reach.
“It was amazing. The whole weekend has been unreal for us. It was like too good to be true, every session and every performance of the car. In qualifying our expectation was to be around half of a second from Red Bull… I think we are half a second or sixth-tenths from Red Bull. So it was quite right.
“I don’t know what to say because eight months ago the project was just a bet but now to be, race one with a completely new car, which I think still needs to unlock a lot of potential to be in the top five, fighting with Ferrari and Mercedes, it seems a little bit unreal. But we’ll take it for sure.”
Despite being widely regarded as one of the best drivers of the modern era, Alonso has not had a genuinely competitive car for a long time. His last pole position came at the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix, his last win at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.