Fernando Alonso ended a seven-year wait for a podium with third place in the Qatar Grand Prix and admits it has felt like a long time coming.
The double world champion returned to Formula 1 this season after two years out, having ended his previous spell with a tough time at McLaren. But Alpine has had a number of standout races and was particularly strong in Qatar, with Alonso overtaking Pierre Gasly on the first lap before holding off a late charge from Sergio Perez to finish third.
“It feels good — obviously a long wait from the last podium, 2014, so I’m happy for this one,” Alonso said. “We executed a good race, a one-stop strategy, and the car was great all weekend long. Yesterday in qualifying the pace obviously helped to start at the front, also with the penalties of this morning. We overtook Gasly in Turn 2, that also helped our race to have little bit cleaner air.
“Finally we got it. We were close in a couple of races but not enough — Sochi was the last possibility. Today, honestly I thought I could be leading after lap 1 — I thought with the red tire I could have a go at Lewis (Hamilton), but I couldn’t. Then with Checo it was very close at the end but I am very happy for the team, also Esteban (Ocon) in P5, so it was a good Sunday.
“I’m enjoying it and f***, I was waiting so long for this, so I am happy.”
Third and fifth for Alpine moves it 25 points clear of AlphaTauri after Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda failed to score at Losail, and Alonso admits such a gain in the battle for fifth could prove crucial.
“We didn’t expect this — we were thinking of very little points between us here, Saudi, Abu Dhabi, but now these 25 points makes things a little easier for us. But we cannot relax, anything can happen these next two events so we need to keep the focus high and deliver more points for the championship.”
Alonso believes the podium is also a sign of how well Alpine is progressing as it targets a big step forward under new regulations next season.
“It has been a long wait — your career sometimes goes up and down, I had wonderful moments, two or three years ago — winning Le Mans, winning the World Endurance Championship etc. — but coming back now in preparation for 2022 and the new rules and to have this podium now at the end of the year feels really nice and I think we are more ready than what we were 10 months ago.”