RACE DEBRIEF

    Fernando Alonso hasn’t appeared in a qualifying session since the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the indefatigable two-time champion showed that not even two years out of the sport and a pre-season bike crash could slow him down, as he put his Alpine A521 into Q3 for the Bahrain Grand Prix, before taking P9 overall. And Alonso said the feeling of pushing an F1 car to its ultimate limit was something he’d missed during his time away.

    Alpine – as Renault have rebranded themselves for this year – had appeared to lack the pace of midfield rivals like McLaren, Ferrari and AlphaTauri throughout the weekend, while early on in qualifying, there was an upset for the team when yellow flags contributed to Alonso’s team mate Esteban Ocon failing to make it out of Q1.

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    But despite Alonso admitting that he’d been struggling with the balance of his A521 throughout the weekend, the Spaniard said he was relieved to make it all the way through into Q3, before claiming ninth on the grid in his first qualifying back in F1.

    “It was good!” said Alonso – who marked his first Q3 appearance since the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix with McLaren. “I think we have to be pleased with the qualifying. I was not confident in any of the sessions so far in the weekend, I was struggling a little bit to feel the rear of the car in windy conditions, and now in the qualifying everything was calmer. The night situation I think helped us with the cooler temperatures, so I was able to attack and feel the car a little bit better and it was fun.

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    “I did miss this feeling. I think the qualifying performance is something amazing”

    “I have to tell you to drive these cars with low fuel, new tyres, the peak performance of the tyre in the first lap, it’s an enjoyable car to drive,” he added. “I did miss this feeling. I think the qualifying performance is something amazing. Then in the race, you have to pace yourself a little bit with the tyre management, with other things. But in qualifying, the maximum performance is something amazing.”

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    He may have to pace himself in the Grand Prix – but Alonso also built a reputation in his first stint in the sport as one of the best racers on a Sunday in Formula 1 history. And despite having the fast cars of the likes of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsuonda starting behind him – as well as team mate Ocon in 16th – Alonso said his goal was nonetheless to make progress in the race.

    “That’s the plan!” he said. “I think we have to be aware as well that some cars starting behind us, they didn’t go to Q3 because maybe they tried [to go through] with the medium in Q2, so they have the pace, and they are quicker probably than us. So yes we have to attack, but at the same time have one eye on the mirror because there are some fast cars behind us.”