The history of Fernando Alonso’s career is often used against him, and perhaps it’s unfair for me to mention it yet again, but it’s for good reason.
After leaving Renault as two-time world champion at the end of 2006, Alonso seemed to find success when he joined a McLaren team that could have given him many more title shots, but he only stayed for one season before returning to Renault.
Then Ferrari should have been a perfect match, but again it didn’t click, and Alonso returned to McLaren in 2015 hoping that Honda would give him the chance to take the fight to Mercedes, such was Silver’s dominance. Arrows in the V6 hybrid turbo era.
As spectacular as that venture’s failure was, it’s not like Ferrari was fighting for any titles in what was left of Alonso’s original contract. His return to Alpine in 2021 allowed him to at least run in a highly competitive midfield for two seasons, and even gave him the occasional shot at front row.
But a car that ran properly up front has been out of reach. And don’t get too excited if you’ve read this far, because it still is. Red Bull emerged from pre-season testing as the class of the field by some distance, and there will need to be some epic sandbag levels for an opposing team to pose any significant threat on Sunday.
However, Aston Martin can certainly put themselves in the field as a rival team now, after impressing other teams up and down the pit lane during the three-day test.
In a way, it shouldn’t surprise us, because the resources available are extraordinary. Lawrence Stroll’s team could attract big talent from other setups, both through the huge pay packages and also the promise of things to come as the first build of a new factory nears completion.
That milestone should be achieved in the coming months, but there are two more buildings to be completed as part of the new Aston Martin campus, and for now it’s largely been working on the old Jordan/Midland/Spyker/Force India/Racing Point factory. at Silverstone, with temporary booths adding office space.
The facilities aren’t in place yet, and when they are, it still takes time to develop a car, so we’re years away from seeing its true impact. However, Aston seem to have made the biggest leap forward of any team over the winter.
As the final day of pre-season testing unfolded, several members of the team began to suggest that Aston Martin might be troubling Mercedes over the third-best car on the grid. Mercedes then had an encouraging finish to the test and there was a little less confidence in those predictions, but the counterargument tended to come from even more enthusiastic observers who insist that Aston could even be second to Red Bull.
Of course, this is all written with the usual caveats in terms of not knowing fuel loads and engine modes, but the long race pace was particularly striking when the AMR23 was on the road. And this is a car that is 95% new.
The early part of last season was a major disappointment, but Aston had one of the best development rates on the grid and ended the year regularly fighting for the best of the rest in midfield. However, that didn’t negate the fact that his initial car fell short of expectations, so the 2023 design is almost a complete overhaul that also provides a better foundation for the future.
That means it shouldn’t really be showing its full potential at this point, but taking more time to understand, refine and improve, as the team has a lot more to learn compared to others who are working with more evolutionary cars.
For Sunday night, there could be multiple different aspects to the Aston Martin image, but almost all of them should root for Alonso. As last year showed, results in Bahrain don’t define the entire season, but with a full year’s knowledge of the new regulations under everyone’s belt, the rate of development over the year could be a bit more limited.
If Aston have moved to the front of the midfield then they have made a very impressive step in recent months that shows they have the staff to achieve better results in the years to come. That is exactly what Alonso thought he was achieving, and he hoped to run long enough to see the team move to an even more competitive position.
But if the top three have now become the top four (or three behind Red Bull), then Aston are already well ahead of even Alonso’s timeline, and likely to be a force to be reckoned with in the near future as their facilities catch up. the car and the people who build it.
Alonso’s move to Aston last summer came as a surprise on many fronts, partly because of how quickly it seemed to come together, and then overshadowed by the Oscar Piastri saga it sparked. But even if none of the above turns out to be true and Aston are still stuck in midfield, the very fact that the team is being talked about shows the potential in it.
As unexpected as it may be, a big move by Aston is not entirely inconceivable given the investments that have been made. Whereas if we were digging into the data for Alpine, a team that has also had an encouraging pre-season, then it would be a bit harder to believe they could move that fast.
That’s exactly why Alonso moved from Alpine. The two teams were most likely close to each other, but one had the potential to do something a bit special and give him a chance to fight bigger teams before he finishes his time in F1. Mike Krack’s team could have done it. but even if he hasn’t, it was worth the gamble.