Fernando Alonso‘s surprise announcement to join Aston Martin was questioned by many, especially given his track record for moving team at the wrong time in Formula 1.
Alonso was only ninth fastest in 2023 pre-season testing in Sakhir and Aston Martin were eighth in the mileage chars – so nothing special here.
It’s the long runs though were Alonso, who completed four of the six sessions, was very impressive and just as good as the front runners. Yep you read that correctly.
Just imagine if he is able to fight Lewis Hamilton again on merit, 16 years on from their dramatic 2007 campaign together as teammates at McLaren. The numbers suggest that will happen.
How fast are Aston Martin?
Alonso looked good on the long runs on the first two days, then he underlined Aston Martin‘s serious pace on Saturday evening.
Whilst Sergio Perez and Hamilton were battling for top spot in the final F1 testing standings, Alonso was on a full race simulation.
This means we know he started his run with a full tank of fuel and ended with little to no fuel in his car.
He started off by lapping in the 1:39s on the C1 tyre, then got faster as the stint went on, by dropping into the 1:38s.
A pit stop, after 14 laps, and onto another set of C1 tyres saw him continue his consistent, strong pace, going quicker as the fuel went down.
After 19 laps, he put on the C2 tyre and was doing 1:36s, a lap time which only Max Verstappen was pumping in during the opening day of testing – when Red Bull were potentially showing their full hand.
Alonso’s race simulation on final day of F1 testing
|Lap||Stint 1 – C1||Stint 2 – C1||Stint 3 – C2|
Everyone was struggling with tyre wear with a drop off of multiple seconds for some teams, so for Alonso to be going faster is just staggering.
Aston Martin may have built a car that is very gentle on its tyres and the Spaniard was excellent during the early days of the Pirelli era when there was lots of tyre wear.
“It was a good day for us with lots of laps and we have learned a lot about the new car,” Alonso said.
“But it is only testing and we do not know what everyone else is doing so there are still many questions to answer.
“There is a lot of potential left for us to unlock and I think we are in a decent place heading into next week. Our goal is to make a step forward from last year and we will take things step by step.”
Unfortunately, for us, Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes didn’t complete full race simulations during the final session of F1 testing.
Haas‘ Kevin Magnussen and Williams‘ Alex Albon did though and Alonso was around two seconds quicker than both of them in all three stints.
If you think to recent seasons and say you’re two seconds per lap quicker than those two teams, you are, at the very least, at the front of the midfield – probably even more.
Red Bull are widely seen as having the car to beat, yet Alonso was one second quicker in the second and third stints than Perez‘s race simulation from Friday morning.
Now, you can’t really compare that because Perez was running when the track conditions were at its warmest and that alone makes a big difference.
But one second? It probably is about that because during the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, everyone finds around 0.7-1.2 seconds from FP1 in the daylight and FP2 in the evening after sunset.
Now, I wouldn’t go as far as saying Aston Martin can match Red Bull but they genuinely do not look far away and are on par with Mercedes and Ferrari.
Why have Aston Martin improved so much?
The AM23 is the first car that has had the full influence of technical director Dan Fallows, who joined the team from Red Bull in April 2022.
Alonso described the car as “easy to drive” which has generally been a trait of the Red Bull in F1, so Fallows has had a big impact here.
We have to give big credit to the other engineers who have been with the Silverstone-based team through the Force India and Racing Point days.
The team often punched above their weight and pushed the limits of engineering. We haven’t seen that so far with Aston Martin since they joined F1 as a constructor in 2021, but that feeling looks like its back.
Aston Martin finished seventh in the constructors’ championship last year and are almost certainly the most improved team in F1 from over the winter.
If Ferrari and Mercedes haven’t got that much to come from testing, which they should, don’t be surprised to see Alonso on the podium for the 99th time in his F1 career.
Oh, and I told you Aston Martin would be dark horses a week ago…