Fernando Alonso classifies “No Man’s Land”.

Last season, Fernando Alonso was able to celebrate third place at the opener in Bahrain – this year the Aston Martin driver ended up “in the middle of nowhere”, or more precisely in ninth place. “I think that was exactly what we expected today,” the two-time Formula 1 world champion remains honest.

“Our simulations said we will be around P9, without much fight ahead of us,” reveals Alonso. “The first four teams are a bit too far ahead, with a comfortable gap behind. And that’s exactly how it happened.”

The Spaniard was 18 seconds behind Oscar Piastri in the McLaren, and at the same time almost 30 seconds ahead of Guanyu Zhou in the Sauber. “So we were in the middle of no man’s land,” says Alonso. “I think we definitely lack pace.”

Nevertheless, the two-time world champion sees a glimmer of hope because the AMR24 has overcome many of the weaknesses from the previous year. “I think we have improved the top speed and the fast corners,” says Alonso happily. “Obviously we made compromises on the slow corners. And now we have to analyze.”

“We had very limited testing opportunities, it was very windy, that applies to everyone, but our car has changed a lot in terms of concept,” the Spaniard reminds us that the team has not yet exploited the full potential of the new car. “So I think we need a few races to stabilize things.”

Aston Martin plans “McLaren progress”

“When I came to the factory at Christmas and January, the expectations were very realistic,” recalls Alonso. “We knew what kind of step we would take in the winter. But I think we have completely changed our philosophy of how we approach the championship, with a good starting position but then a very steady progress throughout the season.”

“Last year we gave everything at the start of the season and were then no longer able to react to the high pace of the top teams,” said the 42-year-old, reflecting on the past year. That’s another reason why Alonso is now confident: “We have more hopes in the second part of the championship this year. I’m confident. I’m happy.”

The Spaniard had expected “to be the fourth or fifth fastest team again, like we were last year.” So Aston Martin starts where they left off in Abu Dhabi last year. “Now it’s up to us to take a kind of ‘McLaren 2023 step’ and become a stronger team in the second part of the season,” hopes Alonso.

Goal achieved: Alonso & Stroll in the points

However, the hope from the Bahrain qualifying, when Alonso ended up in sixth place ahead of the two McLaren drivers and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), quickly disappeared in the race. “Yesterday’s laps are something that you have to study – why we were so fast. I think the race was normal,” the Aston Martin driver has to admit. “The qualifying lap was exceptional.”

“We have to analyze that, because yesterday we were closer to the front than we expected,” Aston Martin team boss Mike Krack admits. “Today was a little more like we expected. We still need to shape the picture but we are not in a position to challenge the top four teams.”

That’s why Aston Martin decided on a different strategy in the race: “We quickly saw that we couldn’t do anything against the other eight cars from the four top teams,” said Krack. “If you then do the same thing, you ended up five seconds behind eighth place, so we tried to delay the stop in case there was a safety car or something like that.”

“We didn’t have a chance to fight with the guys in front of us. So we waited a lot of laps, hoping for a safety car or whatever,” Alonso explains his late stop on the 41st lap. “Once they overtook us again, we all had the same opportunity to stop if the safety car had come, so we no longer had the advantage, so we decided to stop after that.”

“The goal was to score points with both cars,” said Krack. In addition to Alonso, who collected two points for ninth place, his teammate Lance Stroll at least achieved one World Championship point in tenth place. “This mission is accomplished, but we would like to score more points.”

More competitive again in Saudi Arabia?

Alonso and Aston Martin will continue in Saudi Arabia next weekend. “It will be interesting, the track characteristics are very different,” says the Spaniard. “Obviously we’ve only tested this year’s car here in the winter and now in the first race, so it will be the first comparison at another track.”

However, Alonso is not expecting a surprise. “I think the strength of the cars is very similar to last year,” says the two-time world champion, analyzing the opening race in Bahrain: “Ferrari was second fastest last year, but Leclerc’s battery prevented them from reaching the podium last year. And this one They took the podium this year.”

“So in Saudi Arabia Aston Martin and Mercedes were a little ahead of Ferrari, so we’ll see if we and Mercedes will be better there,” smiles Alonso. “But I expect Red Bull to continue to dominate.”

Team boss Krack, however, remains cautious. “Last year we were often within touching distance of the podium, but that was more a ranking factor than pace,” recalls the Luxembourger of the weaknesses and difficulties of the competition. “There were problems with the red cars and we benefited from the circumstances.”

“If we remain objective and look at our performance, we see that it wasn’t great. The result was, but we were far behind,” says Krack, who is still confident for the next race in Jeddah: “We hope “That we can be closer. Hopefully Fernando can do a lap like yesterday, that would help us.”