Like the entire Formula 1 world, fans included, double World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi marveled at Fernando Alonso’s glittering performance during the 2023 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Rejuvenated and recharged with a very handy Aston Martin MAR23 in his hands, Alonso’s heroics – from being tagged by his teammate early through to his storming drive to third place from fifth on the grid and the shuffle he did on old foe Lewis Hamilton was priceless viewing.
From what we saw, a well-out-of-sorts Mercedes team and a disappearing Ferrari it could well be Fernando versus the Bulls this season for our prime-time entertainment.
The Spaniard’s last podium finish for third was in the Qatar Grand Prix in 2021 when he was racing for Alpine. That podium was his first since 2014 when he was racing for Ferrari. He scored his last of 32 F1 victories with the Reds, in Spain, in 2013. The decade since has not made for pleasant reading, especially for Alonso and his legion of fans.
Speaking to VegasInsider, Fittipaldi reflected on the action in Bahrain last Sunday: “Fernando Alonso’s podium was an unexpected one. I think Aston Martin’s performance even surprised Fernando and everyone on the team. If you look at the mid-corners and slow-speed corners, Fernando was able to have different lines than the competitors.
“That means he had extra some grip there. When he overtook, he was very maneuverable on the slow, mid-speed corners. That means the car has a very good grip and handling. The driver of the day was Fernando Alonso. He was strategic, he was right and the team did a very good job,” reckoned Emmo.
Fittipaldi: Lance Stroll was quick
Aston Martin was indeed the surprise package in terms of the first race pecking order, allowing Lance Stroll to drive the AMR23 during FP1 for the first time, after his scary bike training accident and in pain of his fresh injuries.
Fittipaldi noted: “Lance Stroll was quick. With all the problems he’s had, he was running very strong, very quickly. That means they’ll be a challenge in this year’s Championship. No doubt.”
He also hailed Pierre Gasly for his debut with Alpine, starting last after a qualifying fail on Saturday, the next day the Frenchman made amends to finish an impressive ninth.
The Brazilian F1 great pointed out: “ Pierre Gasly had a great performance. He was very impressive, he’s a good driver but it’s going to depend a lot on the team. How the team will behave in the next few GPs. The technical performance of Alpine, that’s what we don’t know.”
As for the dominant Red Bulls, one-two in qualifying and then in the race, a perfect start to their title defense and Verstappen’s quest for a third F1 title. But it was known by most, after the first day of testing in Bahrain (let alone the last) that the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull RB19 would do the record-breaking RB18 proud.
Emmo: Red Bull are the best team again this year
Fittipaldi said of the reigning World Champs: “The Bahrain Grand Prix, for me there were no surprises because when I look at the testing, the Red Bull was clearly ahead of everyone else. Coming out of corners, and mid-corners, they had much more grip than other cars. It showed on Sunday.
“The grip, the balance, amazing. Yes, they are the best team again this year, for grip, downforce and keeping the tires in good condition,” he added, with the proof being the massive gap between the Red Bulls, in cruise mode, and the best of the rest.
And a final word on the disappointing showing of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in a clearly uncompetitive Mercedes, as was the case last year: “If you look back at the beginning of last year, Mercedes were even worse. I think they will come back stronger. They have the experience, they have the technology.
“They have a long way to go but they can recover. Another few Grands Prix and they’ll be competitive again. In my opinion, the first GP gives a very good indication for the rest of the year. If you remember last year, Mercedes in the beginning was really off-pace. And then they recovered.
“It is a long season,” concluded Fittipaldi, a veteran of 144 Grand Prix starts.