Fernando Alonso says he wasn’t at all surprised that Aston Martin had dropped behind a much improved Mercedes in qualifying for the first time this season.
Alonso started the last race alongside Red Bull’s Sergio Perez on the front row and successfully took the lead into the first corner. But in Australia he will line up in fourth behind Mercedes pair George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
The two-time former champion said he wasn’t surprised to see Mercedes having their best qualifying session of the session to date, after seeming to struggle breaking in the new W14 over the first two rounds.
“If you read their comments it seemed that they have a car that is out of Q3, but it’s not that bad!” he told Sky Sports F1 in the paddock at Albert Park Circuit on Saturday ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.
“I think in Jeddah they were within 0.1s of the pace on Sunday to us,” he said. “And they were fast in FP2, and they are always fast.
“It’s not as good as Red Bull – no-one has a car close to Red Bull! – but they are getting better, and they will be a contender for wins soon.
“They did last year, and they won a race [in Brazil] after a very bad start [to the season], so I think this year they are also showing the potential that they have.
Alonso added that much now hinged on how well Mercedes could translate today’s single lap speed into race pace on Sunday, and whether they could stay within reach of pole sitter Max Verstappen.
“I think the race is probably with the Red Bull, the two Mercedes, and probably the Ferrari as well that is better here with these cooler conditions.
“Let’s see if Mercedes can make a good start and stop Max somehow,” Alonso said. “If not it’s going to be a boring race for him!”
Far from being disappointed by the outcome of qualifying, Alonso said he felt it had been one of the strongest performances of the season so far for Aston Martin.
“I am happy with fourth position today after a busy qualifying session,” he reported. “I think it was quite a pretty normal qualifying for us, improving a little bit every session.
- Read also: Verstappen on pole in Australia ahead of Russell and Hamilton
“In terms of performance this was arguably the best qualifying for us of the three. I think it’s the closest we’ve been to pole position,” he added, referring to the four tenths gap between himself and Verstappen in Q3.
“We were 0.6s [off pole] in Bahrain, 0.5s in Jeddah and here 0.4s,” he reflected. “So I think we have to be happy.
“It was very tight. Within one or two-tenths there were a lot of cars, and we were on the upper part of that group in Q1 and Q2,” he noted. “In Q3 a couple of hundredths [meant that] we missed the first row of the grid.
“Tomorrow is when we will discover who has better pace and better management and things like that,” he pointed out. “The Mercedes were very fast in Q3 and they did a better job, but let’s see tomorrow if we can challenge them.
“They had very similar pace in Jeddah compared to me, so I think if they start in front it’s going to be very difficult to overtake them,” he admitted.
“[But] I feel confident. I feel positive about tomorrow. Our strength is the long run pace so we start in the first two rows of the grid and our strengths are on Sundays, so let’s use it.
“The circuit is difficult to judge at times, with changeable temperatures and weather,” he added. “We are expecting it to be difficult to overtake, but in these cooler conditions it will be an interesting race with lots of unknowns.”
Alonso’s team mate Lance Stroll also had a good day in qualifying, splitting the two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc to start from P6 on the grid.
“It was a good effort,” he said. “I think we are in a good position to fight for tomorrow. Maybe there was a bit more lap time in it but it’s really tight if you look at the times.
“I was pretty happy with the long run we did in FP3 so I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It’s a long race.”
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