Sao Paulo Takeaways: Alonso, my Driver of the Day

Sao Paulo Takeaways: Alonso, my Driver of the Day

Sao Paulo Takeaways: Alonso, my Driver of the Day

Fernando Alonso, with his relentless performance in the 2023 Sao Paulo Grand Prix last Sunday, was my Driver of the Day. Lando Norris was as impressive as usual but did not outshine the Spaniard.

Alonso delivered an admirable performance in Brazil last Sunday, keeping Sergio Perez at bay despite the AMR23 being inferior to the RB19, showing that the driver and not only the car makes the difference in Formula 1.

Another example, a clear one as well, is Max Verstappen who delivers magic in the RB19 while Perez fails to do so and by saying this, I am in no way trying to belittle Checo. I am just attempting to say that while all 20 F1 drivers are brilliant drivers steering these machines race in, race out, some of them are simply more special, Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Alonso, Norris…

And while the fans chose to vote Norris as their Driver of the Day, I have to respectfully disagree with them and go for Alonso.

And the first takeaway from the 2023 Sao Paulo Grand Prix will tell you why…

Old is Gold

Sorry Fernando, being 42 is not old by any measure, but with the increasingly lower average age of F1 drivers these days, you are bound to be classified as an old man, especially when you see that Verstappen at the age of 26 has already been in F1 for ten seasons not to mention his three Titles!

But the sport’s elder statesman has been proving day after day that he has not lost any of his abilities in the cockpit of an F1 car and that Aston Martin have struck gold by hiring him to replace the retired Sebastian Vettel.

Granted, qualifying  fourth in Sao Paulo may have been a lucky strike for Alonso, but he managed to put in a decent banker in the final moments before the rain with track temperatures dropping – something Lance Stroll gets credit for doing as well.

With Charles Leclerc retiring on the formation lap which meant one less driver out of the way, but these things happen in F1 and the great job Alonso did last Sunday was not about the position he finished in, but rather how he drove and defended from Perez.

Lap after lap, the #14 Aston Martin was under attack from the #11 Red Bull, but Alonso did not blink, no mistakes at all, and that shows his fitness and stamina in such conditions despite his age – remember he was not one of the drivers who fell apart in Qatar under the tough conditions.

And even when Perez managed to overtake him, he did not give up, and kept it together to retake third with one lap to go and crossed the line still under attack but ahead by 0.053s.

That was the stuff of legends, and Alonso is a living one, and while he will go down in the F1 history books as a double F1 Champion only, we all know he deserved to bag more – why he didn’t is a discussion for another time – but drives like Sao Paulo will always show the coming generations what an incredible driver he is.

Mercedes’ short-lived optimism

hamilton russell sao paulo gp f1

In the span of three races, Mercedes went from optimism to pessimism, as their W14 turned out to be a nightmare to drive, both for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

Mercedes brought a new floor to their car in Austin, the first race of this triple header, and despite being disqualified from that race due to excessively-worn out planks, Hamilton was buoyed by the speed the car showed, and the situation was as good in Mexico where he finished second in the Grand Prix.

But I warned after Austin that the W14 cannot be trusted as it has deceived Mercedes several times this season, working well after upgrades only to drop off after a few races, and this time it did not even wait for the triple header to finish.

Back in 2022, the W13 was the car to beat around Interlagos, and Russell drove it to his first F1 career win, and given that car shares a lot of DNA with its successor, many – even Mercedes themselves – expected, or hoped, that last year’s accomplishments would be repeated this year.

But the W14 had other plans, as its Mr. Hyde side prevailed in Sao Paulo rather than its Dr. Jekyll. The car was horrible to drive for both drivers, hard on its tyres and lacking speed, even being beaten by an Alpine on Sunday.

Lewis said he was relieved he had only two more races to drive “this thing“, and surely enough, 2024 cannot come too soon for the eight-time F1 Constructors’ Champions.

Norris tried his best but…

Norris and McLaren looked good in Sao Paulo, really good, and had it not been for the rain, pole on Friday should’ve been a done deal.

But while Red Bull nailed the timing of sending Verstappen out in Q3, McLaren did not and got caught out by the rain, Norris only seventh, while Verstappen made one lap work brilliantly for pole.

That simply showed the perfection of Red Bull’s operations these days compared to McLaren.

The Sprint shootout showed what Norris was capable off as he was fastest starting from the top spot, but he couldn’t fend off Verstappen’s lightning start who was ahead by Turn 1 relegating his McLaren rival to a futile chasing role for the rest of the short race.

On Sunday, Norris had a brilliant start from sixth – he started one place ahead after Russell’s penalty – and was second by Turn 1, but then the race was Red flagged after Nico Hulkenberg, Alex Albon, and Kevin Magnussen got tangled up.

With Leclerc out of the way crashing on the formation lap after a hydraulics failure, Norris had another chance with a standing start from second, but this time he didn’t have the best launch while Verstappen nailed it once again.

During the race, Norris kept Verstappen honest but despite that didn’t give the impression that he was a threat. The Dutchman admitted to the media: “I think for most of every stint, Lando was matching my lap-times.”

But Norris revealed that towards the end of every stint he was losing his tyres more, he said: “I’m not far behind for the first 10-15, 17 laps but that final phase, I just drop-off a bit too much.

“I don’t know if it’s just we’re a bit slower and I’m pushing a bit more to try to keep up, and then I pay the price or it’s just a little bit of our tyre degradation is not quite as good,” he added.

Well it is probably a combination of all the reasons Norris mentioned, his car is not as good as the RB19, and the way Verstappen is operating theses days – speed, tyre management – is tough to match.

Will 2024 be any different?

Sao Paulo Quick hits

Leclerc: Why am I so unlucky?

  • A fuel system in Qatar meant Carlos Sainz did not take part, and now a hydraulics issue meant Leclerc didn’t make it past the formation lap in Sao Paulo. It’s becoming embarrassing for the Scuderia who are vocal about challenging Mercedes for second in the 2023 F1 Constructors’ Championship.
    With Mercedes’ dire situation in Brazil, it was Ferrari’s perfect chance to close down on them, but then they went racing with one car.
    Now Mercedes retired Russell’s car during the race, but at least they started with two…
  • A decent weekend for Lance Stroll in Sao Paulo. Let’s see if he can keep it up.
  • As for Aston Martin, going back to their old-spec car last weekend and going faster doesn’t bode well for them. Does their technical team know what they’re doing? Do they even know why their car was fast at the start of 2023?
  • Another tough weekend for Oscar Piastri. We know he’s better than this.
  • Perez was closer to Verstappen this weekend, but chasing Alonso and failing to pass is not what Red Bull wants from him.
    He was lucky Mercedes were so bad that he could extend his lead on Hamilton a little bit.