Fernando Alonso claiming a podium finish at the Qatar GP was noteworthy for more than just being his first such finish in 7 years.
It wasn’t so long ago that many were questioning whether Fernando Alonso was right to come back to Formula 1 racing. That included this writer himself, who was skeptical at his ability to muster one final run of note.
There’s no shame in admitting that, in hindsight, that was a wrong call to make. Alonso has not only gone from strength to strength all year, he’s now also claimed a podium finish at the Qatar GP. His first, mind you, since the 2014 Hungarian GP.
We waited more than seven years and 105 races to see @alo_oficial return to an F1 podium 🏆
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 21, 2021
The podium finish was made doubly impressive by the fact he stopped only once. The multiple tyre punctures were one of the big talking points from the race weekend. Four different drivers suffered a puncture – all on the front-left tyre.
Yet Alonso was able to nurse his Alpine home in third place. It is worth noting that he was helped by two things: Sergio Perez’s late second stop and the Virtual Safety Car at the end of the race.
But it takes nothing away from the achievement. The Renault-powered Alpine’s are, at best, the fifth-best car on the grid right now.
That Alonso managed a podium finish in this car was almost as miraculous as teammate Esteban Ocon’s win at Hungary earlier this year.
Afterwards, a clearly jubilant Alonso spoke of his jubilation at finally getting a podium finish.
“It feels good,” he said of the podium. “It is obviously a long wait from the last podium, 2014, so I’m happy for this one, we executed a good race, a one-stop strategy. The car was great all weekend long.”
Indeed it was; both cars were consistently pacy around the Losail International Circuit. Of course, the focus now will be on Alonso and what else he can do.
The Spaniard, who is a two-time world champion who many believe should have more titles, is eyeing another title run in the near future.
I would love to be in the fight with them (Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen). I think it’s a reset for everybody and it’s up to us to produce a fast car.
“It’s not like this year, which was a continuation of the last campaign but, in 2022, everyone has the same cards, so we need to play smarter and hopefully produce a fast car.”
Fernando Alonso is right in terms of 2022 being a reset for everyone. The brand new regulations, which were supposed to come into effect this year, intend to make F1 a more level playing field.
This not only means budget caps and spending limits, but making cars that should – in theory – facilitate easier overtaking. Should this come to fruition, battles for points and podiums will be much harder than they are now.
However, unless Alpine produce a supremely fast car that can outdo the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull, this seems a far-fetched dream.
Sure, the regulations will bring down the gap to the front to some degree; that much is certain. But such vast improvement overnight is unlikely to happen.
Indeed, one could argue that the likes of McLaren and Ferrari are better equipped currently to make that step. Both teams have quick cars that can, in the right conditions, challenge for podiums and win races.
By contrast, both of Alpine’s podiums this season came almost due to circumstance. Alonso put in a masterful drive at Qatar and Ocon had to defend hard against Sebastian Vettel at Hungary.
In theory, by the time Alpine could feasibly develop a race-winning car, Alonso’s current stint in F1 could well be over.
Still, it is entirely plausible that Fernando Alonso could well get a few more podium finishes before calling it quits. Renault’s steady development over the past two seasons seem to be heading in that direction, at least.
It also helps that, despite his veteran status, Alonso remains a potent driver on his day. He served a timely reminder of his abilities at Hungary, when teammate Ocon took the win.
Alonso defended against Hamilton’s onslaught for a good few laps, eventually ensuring the Brit could not catch either Ocon or Vettel. Granted, the tight track layout of the Hungaroring makes overtaking difficult too.
But Hamilton had powered through the grid till that point and might have taken the win away had he passed Alonso earlier. The battle did not go unnoticed, with many praising Alonso’s tenacity.
And now, having notched up a podium finish, he is clearly ready for more. Crucially, perhaps, he believes the team is ready for more of the same too.
“Your career sometimes goes up and down. I had wonderful moments, two or three years ago, winning Le Mans, winning the World Endurance Championship,” he said afterwards.
“But coming back (to F1) 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.”
One thing remains certain: the world has not seen the last of Alonso at the top level.