Feature F1 Unlocked
Ex-F1 racer Jolyon Palmer dissects the thrilling Alonso-Perez battle for P3 from a driver’s POV
Aston Martin flipped the script in Brazil as Fernando Alonso’s sheer tenacity brought home an eighth podium of the year for the reinvigorated Silverstone squad.
Alonso delivered the goods on Sunday, but Lance Stroll also had a decent showing, proving there was more to this upturn than simply some Alonso magic. Stroll finished within sight of the battle for the podium as well, capping a decent weekend for the Canadian whose been having a rough run in the recent slump.
The performance of the Aston Martin car was good, and it was their old trait of decent traction and rear tyre life that we saw so much of earlier in the season that helped them, on a weekend of high degradation.
With Mercedes crumbling with more sprint weekend set up woes, Ferrari struggling for reliability and race pace, and Piastri fading slightly in recent races, the opportunity for a podium fight was there, and as ever Alonso was the man for that fight.
The performance wasn’t magic, but the way that Alonso conjured up the podium was certainly a display of the Spaniard’s cunning and never-say-die attitude.
His restart pass on Lewis Hamilton (see the clip below) set up the podium opportunity, right at the start of the race. Had he not committed to the inside of Turn 4, it’s likely that he would have been stuck behind the Mercedes for a while in the first stint.
It was by getting into third that Alonso was able to build a sizeable buffer to the maligned Mercedes, which would prove crucial to holding back the charging Sergio Perez late on.
Perez couldn’t get within undercut range of Alonso at either of the race’s pitstops, and once the two time champion took his second stop and emerged in third position you knew he’d put on a real fight, with Perez needing an on-track pass to claim the place.
Interlagos is one of the more straightforward circuits to overtake on. There are two main opportunities at the end of the DRS zones. Both straights are long, but the run up the hill out of the final proper corner is huge and provides great slipstream opportunities as well as DRS and a sizeable braking zone.
If you can’t get the move done into the Senna S, then there is another chance down to Turn 4 with another DRS zone. It also means that you don’t want to defend the inside of Turn 1 unless you absolutely have to, because it will compromise your run on the following stretch, making you very vulnerable.
Until the penultimate lap Alonso hadn’t had to cover the inside, but you could see him constantly scanning his mirrors, sizing up where Perez was. Finally the Mexican deployed as much energy as he could and grabbed an opportunity into Turn 1.
Alonso covered a bit late and a bit half-heartedly and it looked like the move was done. After a dozen laps of stalking, the faster car had finally gobbled up it’s prey.
But that wasn't the end of the story – not with Alonso in this mood.
Perez knew it as well and it was a mixture of his late race angst, Alonso’s driving and reputation that gave the Spaniard a chance to fight back against the odds.
As Perez came through, Alonso was close enough to fight back into Turn 4 without looking seriously like re-passing. Crucially the 42 year old kept harassing the back of the Red Bull for the next corners as well, making Perez drive in his mirrors, defensively through the fast Turns 6 and 7 of Ferradura, where it’s notoriously difficult to follow, as well as making the Mexican jink late to the inside to cover the inside of the next slower right.
All of this looked hopeless for Alonso who was clutching at straws with half looks in places you can’t overtake at, but while Perez was looking backwards he wasn’t able to use the Red Bull pace to create a gap for himself to break away from the slower car.
Alonso managed to stay within DRS range on the long charge up the hill, and with Perez knowing it was the last lap, he made the costly call to cover the inside, whilst Alonso was likely too far back to try anything into Turn 1 anyway.
It compromised the Mexican’s run through the corner and Alonso had him exactly where he wanted, using everything he had left to blast back past in a straight line for a podium place.
This was Alonso at his best in wheel-to-wheel racing: deploying energy when it made sense, but holding it back when he could as well, so that he had the extra 160bhp at his disposal at the exact moment he needed it, for the killer move.
It was a dramatic run to the line and a photo finish between the two, ending in despair for a rueful Perez who must have thought he had it sewn up, and jubilation for Alonso who had scored a podium out of nowhere, just when it seemed Aston Martin were down and out and tailspinning towards a welcome fresh start in 2024.
A masterful drive, a mixed qualifying and some troubles for their rivals will keep Aston Martin grounded about their current position.
They are still overall a shadow of their early 2023 selves, but at least this result reminds the team that they can do it, gives them a taste for silverware once more, and proves that when given the chance they have the team and driver to execute.