Alonso's Qatar GP Brilliance Ends Seven Year Podium Drought
Alonso dazzled under the lights in Losail to end quite a long podium drought...
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Lusail, Qatar - Fernando Alonso took two years off from Formula 1 before returning in 2021 to embark on a new campaign of hopeful success with Alpine. We've seen glimpses of Alonso's World Championship pedigree this season with his stellar defense against Lewis Hamilton in Hungary and a near podium finish in Sochi just a few races ago. Entering the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix, Alonso was the highest placed driver in the Driver's Championship without a podium this season. It looked as though that record would continue but penalties, punctures, and decades worth of F1 experience helped Fernando secure his first podium finish since 2014. Ending a personal podium drought is of great importance to Alonso but the progress from Alpine is what is even more critical for Fernando as we approach F1's new era starting in 2022.
The 1 Stop Gamble That Paid Off For Alonso
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The Losail International Circuit was totally new to Formula 1 so teams only had simulations to go off of when determining race strategies. Alonso was slightly at a disadvantage to the front runners as he started on the second row of the grid on the soft tyre. Now although the softer compound helped him get a good start and jump Pierre Gasly after Turn 4, it was thought that the soft would not last very long and that those behind Fernando on the harder compound would be at an advantage later in the race. In comparison to the soft runners around him, Alonso came in 10 laps later than Gasly who boxed on Lap 13 and two laps earlier than Lando Norris who pitted on Lap 25. The podium seemed to fade away as the likes of Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas were making their charge back up the field but then a surprise second stop by Perez on Lap 41 opened the door for Alpine and Alonso. And this where Alonso's brilliance really shined under the Losail lights as he retook third and had to just bring the car home. But that task was evidently becoming harder and harder as drivers such as Bottas, Norris, Russell, and Latifi suffered left front tyre failures. The two-time world champion had to manage a 34 lap stint on the C1 tyre at great risk of a possible puncture while trying to keep a pace that was fast enough to fend off the Red Bull of Perez. Alonso's lap times on the worn hard tyre were quite impressive as we see from Lap 41 onwards after Checo's second stop. The Spaniard on average was lapping in the low one minute 27's and managed his fastest lap of the race on lap 48 with a 1:26.6, compare that to Perez's fastest lap of the race set on Lap 49 with a 1:25.6. It was this crucial 15 lap phase in the race that enabled Alonso to hold onto third place as a fortunate Virtual Safety Car all but assured Alpine that Alonso would make it to the end and fend off Perez. By the end of the Grand Prix, Alonso was only 2.8 seconds ahead of Perez and nearing the limit of his tyre life. Who knows what could have happened with another few laps to go on the tyre but thankfully for Alonso and Alpine, they're able to celebrate what was a fantastic weekend.
More Than Just a Podium for Alonso and Alpine
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Alonso will be delighted to score his first podium since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix and it will be a personal confirmation that his return to Formula 1 was the right decision. But the podium in Qatar holds far more significance than just the delight of seeing a great driver back on the podium. This weekend was of massive importance to Alpine in the Constructor's standings as they entered Losail level on points with Alpha Tauri. And with Gasly's stellar P4 qualifying and excellent form as of late, Alpine really needed a big result in order to hold off Alpha Tauri's late bid to finish in the top 5 for the first time in their history. Alpine really delivered when it mattered the most on a tricky weekend when Qatar was a new venue for all drivers and teams. This was one of those weekends in which car and driver were in complete unison as Alonso was loving the Losail experience saying post-quali; "I told the team if you put in enough fuel I could be all night long driving here’. “I think there are certain circuits that seem to be better for our package, this is one of those..." You could really sense Alonso's confidence in the car and we got to see the World Championship legend we've come to know and love. He got his elbows out on lap one and didn't give an inch to championship leader Max Verstappen and his subsequent overtake on Gasly a few corners later really set up his race beautifully. Alonso's third place combined with Ocon's P5 finish puts Alpine clear of Alpha Tauri by 25 points with two races to go. A significant Qatar GP result for Alpine might just seal them a solid 2021 season along with a decent helping hand of Constructor's prize money. But for Alonso, it also leaves him optimistic for his chances in 2022 with a whole new type of Formula. The 40 year old has been pushing the team since the onset of 2021 in order to put them in prime position for 2022 and beyond. Having scored a podium himself and his teammate a victory, it's great progress from Alpine after showing good signs in 2020. Considering the top three we saw in Qatar, who wouldn't want to see the trio of Verstappen, Hamilton and Alonso battling for wins next season at the front of the grid.