Fernando Alonso claimed after Australian Grand Prix qualifying that his Alpine A522 had the pace to take his first Formula 1 pole position for almost a decade before a hydraulics failure caused him to crash on his first Q3 lap.
Alonso, who last started on pole position for the 2012 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, was on a lap that after the first two sectors was quicker than Charles Leclerc’s provisional pole position time when he crashed at the Turn 11 right-hander. This was the result of the hydraulics failure that preventing him downshifting from fourth to third.
He was on an absolute flyer up until this moment!
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 9, 2022
This failure follows the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, in which an engine problem forced him to retire while on course for sixth place — although he did score points with ninth place in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix despite complaining about poor strategy and an engine that was a little below-par.
“The gearbox was not working anymore and the engine also switched off, the power steering switched off,” said Alonso.
“It is unbelievable how unlucky we are. Twenty seconds later, maybe we were on pole if the car stops at Turn 1 rather than Turn 11. These three races are difficult to explain.”
Asked directly if he thought the car had the pace for pole position, the Spaniard replied, “Yes.” However, despite the strong pace of the car, Alonso would have needed a big slice of luck to have taken pole — and once he had the chance to take a closer look at the way qualifying played out, he revised his prediction to a possible third place, according to the team.
The Alpine has struggled in the final sector throughout the weekend, meaning there’s no guarantee he would have been able to set a faster lap than Leclerc had he completed the lap he crashed on. This is because the Alpine has been strong on straight-line speed but less effective in slower corners.
He would then have had to make a significant improvement on his second run, given Leclerc found almost 0.4s on his second attempt. However, a second-row qualifying position was likely.
Although Alpine wasn’t expected to be strong enough to be talked up as a pole position contender by Alonso in Australia, the team has had a strong start to the season. It’s had what is on average the fastest car behind F1’s big three — Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes — and Albert Park was well suited to its strengths. Doubly so once the DRS zone on the run to Turn 9 had been removed, something Alonso is understood to have pushed for.
The Renault power unit has also made a step forward this year, having consistently struggled to match the leading engine manufacturers during the V6 turbo hybrid era.
“The car is getting better and better — we feel more confident,” said Alonso. “The team is working hard and maybe a surprise to fight for pole, but not a surprise to be closer and closer to the leaders.
“It has been the best weekend for years for me. It is so frustrating not to execute it at the end.”
Alonso will start the Australian GP 10th, assuming the crash didn’t cause damage that will require changes to be made that trigger a penalty — something there was no immediate sign of.
He’s hopeful of a strong result, although argues the team merits a podium finish in this phase of the season.
“Let’s see if we need to change something that gives us penalties or whatever,” said Alonso. “Right now, when you’re so close to pole position tomorrow, scoring a couple of points is OK, but we deserve a podium sooner or later.”
Pole position might have been optimistic, but the fact the Alpine was certainly a car quick enough for the second row in Alonso’s hands is proof of the team’s progress.