Fernando Alonso is aiming high after an optimistic opening race of the 2023 Formula 1 season, setting his sights on a third world championship.
After nearly a decade in the wilderness at McLaren and Alpine, Alonso finally appears to be back in a car capable of fighting at the front of the F1 grid as he scored a podium in the opening race of the season in Bahrain.
But while other drivers would just focus on consolidating those top-three finishes, Alonso was unequivocal when asked about his goal for the 2023 season.
“The 100th podium? 33rd victory? I’m going for the World Championship,” Alonso told Canal+ France.
After deposing Michael Schumacher and Ferrari in 2005, and following it up with a second title in successive seasons in 2006, it looked like Alonso could have a rein of dominance similar to the German.
However, his move to McLaren combusted in just a single season and after two years back at an uncompetitive Renault, marred by the Crashgate controversy, he was unable to drag Ferrari to a title across five seasons despite being the favourite going into the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
He returned to McLaren in 2015 and helped torch their relationship with Honda before retiring for F1. His two-year stint at Alpine failed to deliver anything more than a podium, and it looked like his F1 career might end with a whimper.
However, the move to Aston Martin looks to have finally rejuvenated his career. They looked very strong at pre-season testing and followed that up with that season-opening podium to confirm themselves as true challengers.
No such thing as coincidence?
Additionally, a strange pattern puts Alonso in good stead for finally adding to his world championship tally.
Since 2017, the driver who’s topped FP2 of the first grand prix of the season has won the world championship, and the Spaniard was the man to beat on Friday evening in Bahrain.
Meanwhile, the weight of history is against Verstappen. Since 2017, no driver has won the opening race of the season and gone on to win the world championship, and it was the Dutchman who took victory in Bahrain.
However, all of that will mean if Aston Martin can’t keep in touch with Red Bull especially through the first part of the season.
While Red Bull‘s aerodynamic testing penalty for breaking the 2021 cost cap should impact their in-season development as the year progresses, they seemed to be so far ahead of the rest of the field in Bahrain that they may be out of site before that penalty starts to bite.
The one saving grace for Alonso and his team is the calendar spread – thanks to the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix there’s just four races in the first two months of the season, compared to six in the same period at the end of the campaign.