Fernando Alonso says Aston Martin needs to focus on keeping the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari at bay rather than dreaming of victory from the front row at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen’s reliability issue opened the door for a more competitive qualifying session than was expected, with the early championship leader starting 15th. Sergio Perez took pole position from Charles Leclerc, but a grid penalty for the Ferrari driver means Alonso will start second as Aston Martin backed up its performance from Bahrain, but the Spaniard believes a win is unlikely.
“I think we are not in that position yet,” Alonso said. “I think on pure pace, Red Bull is in another league. And I think we have to concentrate more on the teams behind. So Ferrari will be very strong. Mercedes, they are strong, and also Alpine, they are fast here.
“So I think our race is just behind us. But we saw today, Max probably was in his league today in qualifying and he could not complete the qualifying with a mechanical issue apparently, so we will try to take the opportunity for sure.”
Alonso has made a number of impressive starts throughout his career and feels that is his only hope to get ahead of Perez, given the pace Red Bull has shown all weekend.
“I don’t want to sound pessimistic but if we see the pace the whole weekend in free practice, we see the Bahrain race, we have to be honest with ourselves and know that Red Bull is a little bit ahead of everyone. So that’s not, let’s say, the target tomorrow, to fight for the win with Checo.
“But as I said before, Formula 1 is not exact mathematics, you know — anything can happen and today no one of us will put Verstappen P15, but these things happen sometimes. So, for us, the most important thing is to score points. We are starting both cars in the top five. We try to finish both cars in the top five and keep accumulating points for the Constructors’ Championship. That’s the main goal for Aston Martin this year.”
Alonso is also wary of a Verstappen fightback on Sunday, but says the progress Aston Martin has made over the winter to be speaking in such terms should not be overlooked.
“I think Max will come eventually in the race, you know. They have this advantage. I don’t know which race it was last year that he started last, so he changed the power unit and still finished P2 or even won the race. So, I think tomorrow, there is no doubt that he will be in the podium, probably, minimum. So as I said, this is not our goal.
“When we launched the car on the 13th of February, I remember very well a conversation with (team principal) Mike Krack, with Lance (Stroll), with the senior management of the team, setting the goals for this year, and the goals were not fighting Red Bull for the win tomorrow. So let’s keep it simple. Let’s keep the feet on the ground, and don’t make any mistakes.
“Even if we are competitive we cannot leave these kinds of weekends that they are so good for us with no points, that would be our biggest mistake. So whatever is available tomorrow, I’m sure we will take.”