Fernando Alonso enlivened the first race of the Formula One season, which was dominated by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, in a way that suggested the fate of this year’s world championship was already known.
Alonso put in a stellar performance, including two spectacular overtaking moves, to come from seventh in the early stages to finish third behind Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez.
The story of the Bahrain Grand Prix was Alonso’s remarkable rise to the front with his Aston Martin team.
Most expected Verstappen’s dominance, even if the extent of it left his title rival from last year, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, disappointed. While Aston Martin had impressed in pre-season testing, even Alonso did not expect them to be as good as they were.
Before the cars took to the track on race weekend, Alonso told this writer over coffee last Thursday morning that he was planning on qualifying in the lower reaches of the top ten and finishing in the top five or six.
But his car was probably the second fastest in the field at Sakhir on Sunday, and the delicious moves he pulled on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari in the closing stages sparked a race that had long since become somnambulant at the front.
“We didn’t expect to be this competitive,” said Alonso. “The aim in 2023 was getting in the mix in the midfield, leading that midfield and getting close to the top three teams. But even a podium was possibly off the table.
“And we found ourselves second-best car today in Bahrain, or the whole weekend, just behind Red Bull. So this comes as a bit of a surprise.”