Bahrain Practice: Alonso and Aston Martin deliver on promise
After all the pre-season testing hype surrounded the mean green British racing team, Fernando Alonso showcased the promise appears to be real with a headline time in the second of two Friday practice sessions at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The opening round of the season always has some question marks around it when it comes to showing off the true pace of the teams for the season ahead, but Alonso and Aston picked up where they left off in testing, setting a time of 1.30.907, 0.169s ahead of reigning World Champion Max Verstappen. It was a time which was also nearly 2 seconds faster than Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez had set earlier in Practice 1.
Practice 2 was more of a qualifying simulation for the teams, held under lights in similar conditions that will meet the drivers for the first qualifying session later tonight Australian time. And despite this being the case for Aston Martin, Alonso dismissed talk that it makes them favourite for pole position, telling reporters “I’m not thinking that high” after his time topping run.
It will be interesting to see where the team ends up during qualifying, given the Spaniard set the second fastest time in Practice 1, being the only driver to finish in the top 2 of both sessions on the opening day of the season.
Fernando Alonso of Spain and Aston Martin F1 Team talks to the media in the Paddock during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
His teammate Lance Stroll was also impressive in his return to the car after missing pre-season testing due to a wrist injury, setting the sixth fastest time in each session.
Stroll was shown having some obvious issues with his wrist in FP2, resting his hand off the wheel in straights as well as telling the team he wasn’t able to follow certain lines into corners due to his injury, however given a week ago he was in surgery, it’s a strong result for the Canadian to get this far and be on the pace.
Red Bull would be satisfied with their opening day as they continue be the team to beat. Verstappen was third in FP1 to go alongside his second in FP2, while Perez dropped to third in FP2.
Despite their strong times, both drivers complained of balance issues in each session, but were confident they could be overcome for the remainder of the weekend.
Ferrari too seem likely to be challenging for the win on Sunday, with both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz satisfied with the performance of the SF-23, despite not finishing in the top 3 of either practice session.
Leclerc admitted pole position might not be possible, but was buoyant about their chances, claiming the car felt better than testing and was hopeful for more performance.
Elsewhere down the grid, Mercedes look likely to be in for a long weekend, with both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell struggling to set strong times in both qualifying and race simulations.
Hamilton said the team were still “a long way off”, and the team looks likely to be sitting fourth in the pecking order and may struggle to get close to a podium in Bahrain.
Australia’s debutant Oscar Piastri had a few hairy moments in FP2, racing wheel to wheel with Yuki Tsnoda’s AlphaTauri down the main straight before nearly colliding with Stroll’s Aston Martin, as well as having a massive lock up heading into turn 1 later in the session.
He and McLaren teammate Lando Norris would’ve been slightly more positive with their team’s performance compared to pre-season testing, however Piastri could only manage 12th in FP1 and 15th in FP2. Norris was an impressive 4th in FP1 and 9th in FP2.
Nico Hulkenberg impressed on his return to the sport in FP2 by finishing 5th for Haas, while the Alfa Romeo’s of newly adopted Aussie Valtteri Bottas & Zhou Guanyu had a strong Friday, finishing 8th & 9th in FP1 & 10th & 12th in FP2.
With the first day over with for the 2023 F1 season, all eyes will be on Alonso and Aston Martin heading into tonight’s qualifying to see if their rise up the grid and strong form will continue as Alonso aims for his first pole position since the 2012 German Grand Prix.
FP1 1 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing 1:32.758 2 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.438 3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.617 4 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.407 5 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +1.499 6 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.540 7 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.644 8 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1.817 9 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.931 10 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +2.159 11 George RUSSELL Mercedes +2.208 12 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +2.239 13 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +2.257 14 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +2.285 15 Esteban OCON Alpine +2.347 16 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +2.644 17 Pierre GASLY Alpine +2.697 18 Logan SARGEANT Williams +2.991 19 Alexander ALBON Williams +3.260 20 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +3.314
FP2 times 1 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin 1:30.907 2 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.169 3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.171 4 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.460 5 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +0.469 6 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.543 7 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.568 8 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.636 9 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.663 10 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +0.679 11 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.701 12 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.886 13 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.975 14 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +1.049 15 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.117 16 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.203 17 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.533 18 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.618 19 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.698 20 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.842
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here