RACE DEBRIEF

    Alonso says first podium since 2014 shows he’s moved to ‘another level’ compared to start of his F1 comeback

    Fernando Alonso reckons he’s moved to “another level" in his comeback season after scoring his first Formula 1 podium in seven years in the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix.

    Double world champion Alonso, who returned to F1 this season with Alpine after a two-year hiatus, has been in sparkling form all weekend in Losail, the Spaniard loving the track layout and showing supreme pace throughout all the sessions.

    He made a great getaway from third on the grid – having inherited two positions because of penalties for Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas – to leap into second – and while he ultimately lost a position to the recovering Verstappen, he was able to hold off the chasing Sergio Perez to take his first podium since Hungary 2014.

    READ MORE: Hamilton narrows Verstappen’s title lead with Qatar win as Alonso takes first podium of F1 comeback

    “Probably as a weekend in general, this one was the best as Friday, Saturday, Sunday was very consistent,” said Alonso. “Sochi was quite well executed as well, only the rain at the end stopped us from the podium there. The last part of this 2021 is another level compared to the first part. I’m happy with this year of comeback and this preparation into next year is definitely another level now.”

    In finishing on the podium, he sets the record interval between podiums – 105 races – and is only the third driver over 40 in the last 35 years to have stood on the podium.

    Alonso declares his 'love' for the Qatar track after first podium in seven years

    “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. In qualifying the pace obviously helped to start at the front, also with the penalties of this morning.

    “We overtook Gasly in Turn 2, that also helped our race to have little bit cleaner air. It was a long wait. Your career sometimes goes up and down. I had wonderful moments, two or three years ago, winning Le Mans, winning the World Endurance Championship etc, 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.”

    READ MORE: ‘It keeps it exciting’ – Verstappen relishing title fight after Hamilton closes the gap in Qatar

    His team mate Esteban Ocon completed a sensational result for Alpine with fifth, giving the French team a huge haul that pushed them 25 points clear of AlphaTauri – who didn’t score - with two races to go.

    “It’s like a win for us,” said Ocon. “I’m so glad to see Fernando on the podium. He has driven to the ultimate excellence as he always does. For me, from ninth to fifth is also a fantastic result, I’m very pleased with our race, our pace, and we take 25 points out of AlphaTauri. What a day.

    “I also tried to give back a little bit what Fernando gave me from Budapest, I slowed down a good 2.5, 3 seconds Sergio in that lap, so I was hoping that was going to be enough and it was.”

    Esteban Ocon celebrates 'beautiful result' after P3 and P5 Alpine finish in Qatar