RACE DEBRIEF

    Fernando Alonso put in his best qualifying performance since his return to Formula 1 at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, taking P5 on the grid – with Alonso keen to convert that to strong points on Sunday, as his Alpine team’s battle with AlphaTauri for P5 intensifies.

    Alpine had shown a flash of strong pace in Free Practice 3 at the Losail International Circuit, with Alonso and team mate Esteban Ocon taking P7 and P8 in the session.

    But they carried that form through to qualifying, with Alonso taking P5 on the grid for his best non-penalty-affected grid slot of the season, qualifying just 0.030s behind the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly – with Alpine and AlphaTauri currently tied on 112 points in their fight for P5 in the constructors’.

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    “Happy days!” said Alonso afterwards. “The whole weekend has been great for us. The car seems to perform really well in these long corners. I think we did in Turkey as well, we did in Sochi, and here, so very enjoyable. The Qatar track is unbelievable for Formula 1 cars. Now at night, light cars with low fuel, new tyres, I could be driving all night long!”

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    Alonso said he could have driven all night long

    Asked about his proximity to the AlphaTauri of Gasly, meanwhile – with Gasly’s team mate Yuki Tsunoda claiming P8 on the grid, ahead of Ocon – Alonso replied: “They are very strong, we know that, but we have to say normally they qualify up there and we recover in the race on Sunday. But we’re qualifying well on Sundays, so that’s good news for us, we can start close to them.

    “They are fourth, we are fifth, we’ll start on the clean side, so maybe at the start we’ll have the first opportunity and let’s see. I think the race also, we have to be careful with some medium [tyre] starters – Carlos [Sainz] behind us, [Sergio] Perez P11, he will come eventually in the race. It’s going to be a long race for everybody, but happy with today. Points are given tomorrow, so let’s see.”

    READ MORE: Gasly delighted with ‘amazing’ Qatar qualifying despite late puncture drama

    Alpine were one of only three teams, along with Mercedes and AlphaTauri, to get both cars into Q3 in Qatar. And although not quite reaching the heights of his team mate, Ocon was also satisfied with his performance on Saturday, as he claimed ninth.

    “It was a great session,” said Ocon. “Fernando was on fire today for sure. To put it up there, it’s a very, very decent effort.

    Alonso celebrates 'happy days' in qualifying at 'unbelievable' Qatar track

    “On our side not so happy, but the important thing today is we keep the fight for fifth place in the constructors’. We are there with AlphaTauri. We were not expecting to be as fast today, but we were and that’s very good news.

    “We’ll fight hard, race hard as we always do, and hopefully create some opportunities.”

    2021

    The fight for P5 ahead of Qatar

    POSITION POINTS
    5 Alpine Alpine Alpine 112
    6 AlphaTauri AlphaTauri AlphaTauri 112