Alpine’s Fernando Alonso has hailed his first F1 podium in seven-and-a-half years as “fantastic” after finishing third at 2021 Qatar Grand Prix.
Alonso qualified fifth after making huge strides throughout all three Practice sessions but benefitted from penalties for Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas to start third on the grid, where he got an aggressive start to claim second from Pierre Gasly.
Alonso however couldn’t keep Verstappen behind as the championship leader passed him for second at the start of Lap Five, with Alonso settling into third until he pitted at end of Lap 23 and was able to regain third after Sergio Perez made his second stop at the end of Lap 41.
Other drivers meanwhile converted to a two-stop strategies as tyres struggled to last longer than around 30 laps, yet Alonso stuck to his one-stop strategy which saw him cling onto third from Perez by nearly three seconds at the checkered flag and a first podium finish since 2014 Hungarian GP.
Reflecting on his unexpected podium, Alonso said: “It felt fantastic today and to be back on the podium was so good. We deserved this result as a team and I’ve had to wait seven years since my last one. Hopefully we don’t need to wait this long again!”
Alonso though admitted that he “took some risks” with his one-stop strategy which paid off with “strong pace”, despite being advised to limit his use of the kerbs in the closing laps.
Esteban Ocon meanwhile clung on to finish fifth ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll after holding Perez up briefly and Alonso praised his teammate for his support, as he added: “Esteban did a great job in assisting the result and our pitstops were brilliant, so well done to the whole team.”
Summing up this weekend in his own words, Alonso concluded; “In the end, it was a perfect weekend for us and we scored lots of points in the Constructors’ Championship, so now we have a good advantage over Alpha Tauri heading into the final two races.”
Ocon meanwhile was pleased to have enjoyed “a great race” from ninth on the grid as he quickly cleared Carlos Sainz and Yuki Tsunoda at the start, before trying to return the favour for Alonso by blocking Perez after the Spaniard held up Lewis Hamilton in Hungary to give him victory.
Explaining his decision to help Alonso out, Ocon explained: “I tried to return the favour to Fernando from Budapest; I asked the team if they needed me to defend from Perez. He was on fresh tyres and it was not easy, but I did the maximum I could.”
Alpine Chief Executive, Laurent Rossi added that a 25-point haul is “a fantastic team result” after maximising their opportunity following grid penalties for Verstappen and Bottas
Rossi went on to explain that Alonso’s podium was simply down to him navigating himself into contention with execution of the right strategy calls and pit-stop, which all “fell into place” to deliver a “deserved” third place.
Rossi also praised Ocon for a “brilliant” drive with “calm” maturity to stick to his one-stop strategy as other drivers were forced onto a two-stopper, yet were able to place him under pressure in the closing laps with no success.
Alpine now hold a 25-point lead over AlphaTauri in fifth with two races remaining which Rossi described as a “healthy advantage” but iterated that the team cannot “get too far ahead” because anything could happen with a maximum of 88 points on offer across the final two races.