Fernando Alonso, who was always grinning, was transported into a Formula 1 time machine by his giant ride in Bahrain. The last time he felt so inspired after a Grand Prix was in Barcelona in 2013, said the 41-year-old oldie in the sensationally fast Aston Martin after his third place in the opening race in the desert.
In a long-gone era, Alonso even fought for the World Cup crown against Sebastian Vettel, who finally triumphed. But he didn't feel as good as he does now, emphasized the former competitor of record world champion Michael Schumacher after an impressive night.
Premier class dominator Max Verstappen wishes for the hardly expected resurrection of the title challenger from Spain. "I hope that for Fernando because he's had a few years where he didn't really have the opportunity to fight at the top," said the sovereign winner from the Netherlands. "It's hard to say if they will fight for the championship, but race wins are definitely in there."
In the first year after Vettel's resignation, successor Alonso suddenly raced to the factory team's second podium since returning in 2021. The German had become alienated from Formula 1 and had been unnerved by the lame English car. Also thanks to his development work, Alonso has now set a first exclamation mark. Sky expert Ralf Schumacher assumed that Vettel now even regrets his departure. "On the other hand, he will be happy to be at home, not to have the stress. It wasn't always that easy in the team either. But of course: every driver wants to celebrate the start of the season like this," he said Brother of record world champion Schumacher.
Homage from the rivals
After the 99th podium in his 20th Formula 1 season, Alonso was exuberant as a newcomer. Current and former rivals paid homage to him. "He drives as if he were 25 again, gigantic," said Nico Rosberg, world champion of 2016, about the champion of 2005 and 2006. Alonso was always "at the limit". The Asturian's overtaking maneuvers against Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes and Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari in the second half of the race were highlights of a boring start.
"Marca" in Spain spoke of Alonso's "comeback day", even if he has been back in Formula 1 since 2021 after a break from endurance racing. Wrong career decisions and a reputation as a difficult character documented by various contemporary witnesses are likely to have cost him more world championship titles and more race victories than the 32 that have been cemented for ten years. "In Formula 1 there always has to be good and bad characters, heroes and anti-heroes. I belong to the dark side," said Alonso in the Netflix documentary "Drive to Survive" and grinned challengingly.
During his one-year interlude in 2007 at McLaren, he led the traditional English team to the brink of collapse. He fell out with his stable rival Hamilton and passed insider information to the world automobile association Fia in an espionage affair. McLaren was fined $100 million for possessing secret Ferrari data, and the spy fled to Renault.
Typical Alonso move
Alonso was employed by the successor racing team Alpine for the past two years. When he felt the signing of the contract dragged on and the chance at Aston Martin suddenly presented itself, he changed the team without further ado. Some were duped, others amazed - basically a typical Alonso move.
Aston Martin is driven tirelessly by team co-owner Lawrence Stroll. The Canadian has become a billionaire in the fashion business and wants to become world champion with the traditional English brand. The most recent investments by the father of Alonso's teammate Lance Stroll include the construction of a new racing factory in Silverstone for the equivalent of almost 230 million euros, the poaching of top personnel such as top engineer Dan Fallows from Red Bull or the commitment of former world champion Alonso.
Eight months of development have accelerated the Aston Martin crazy - even if Red Bull remains in a class of its own. "If you compare the two cars, the Aston Martin is most similar to the Red Bull. Not only did Dan Fallows switch to Aston Martin, but also some other employees," remarked Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko pointedly. "Obviously they have a good memory."
The imitation of successful models is not uncommon in Formula 1. Alonso now even sees potential for victory. "Anything can happen in 22 races with different conditions. I'll do my best to have a chance," said the veteran, who last won a Grand Prix in Barcelona in 2013. Bahrain is "just the beginning".