Fernando Alonso has predicted blustery weather and a slippery racetrack will combine to create another chaotic grand prix around the streets of Azeri capital Baku.
McLaren was again the slowest of the Renault-powered teams in qualifying, with 13th the best Alonso could extract from his machinery, though the Spaniard will start from 12th after Nico Hulkenberg serves his five-place gearbox change penalty.
More troubling is that Alonso was unable to outpace either Williams car despite the rival British squad’s slower-than-desired start to 2018 with a car that at times has been slower than last year’s model.
“Not the easiest qualifying, but it is more or less the same as the previous races — P13 for me,” Alonso said. “We need to make a little step forward, hopefully in the next one.”
Alonso emphasized that his team’s slow start the year was to be expected, with the car remaining largely unchanged since preseason testing in anticipation of a major overhaul for the Spanish Grand Prix next month.
“We have no developments … so it is normal that we are falling behind,” he said. “Definitely we need to make a step forward, hopefully from Barcelona onwards.”
But the Spaniard said he was looking forward to the race, where the grand prix veteran believes he will have the opportunity to score heavy points in an action-packed afternoon.
“Tomorrow is going to be a fun race from the outside for you guys,” he said. “It is going to be a crazy race, and hopefully people enjoy it.
“A lot of yellow flags, safety cars, so we need to be smart and ready to take an opportunity.”
Baku has been living up to its moniker as the ‘city of winds’ this weekend, with gusty weather catching drivers out across both Friday and Saturday, exacerbating the low-grip nature of the temporary street circuit.
With no easing of the conditions forecast before the race, Alonso believes just staying on the track and out of the crash barriers will be a major challenge.
“It is going to be a very demanding race from the mental point of view,” he said. “Zero room for mistakes here — the walls are very close and it is a street circuit, very windy, dusty, so a lot of action.
“You need to stay out of trouble and maximize the points on the last couple of laps.
“Normally on Sundays we score a lot of points. Hopefully tomorrow is one of those Sundays.”