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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Spanish Grand Prix: Fernando Alonso gears up for success at home

41-year-old arrives revitalized with Aston Martin team that is one of the surprises of the season and has been running near top from start

AP/PTI Barcelona Published 01.06.23, 05:11 AM
Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso (right), who finished second in the Monaco Grand Prix, celebrates on the podium with third-placed Alpine’s Esteban Ocon on Sunday

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso (right), who finished second in the Monaco Grand Prix, celebrates on the podium with third-placed Alpine’s Esteban Ocon on Sunday Reuters

It’s been nearly a decade since there was this much hype surrounding the Spanish Grand Prix. The last time the Formula One crowd in Spain had such high hopes of celebrating a victory by Fernando Alonso — the country’s biggest racing idol — was back in 2013, when the two-time champion was driving for Ferrari.

Alonso went on to win that race in Barcelona, but since then has never been in a realistic position to make it to the top step of the podium again at home. That was his last win in F1 anywhere, and the last by any Spaniard in the local race.

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The 41-year-old Alonso arrives revitalized with an Aston Martin team that is one of the surprises of the season and has been running near the top from the start. Alonso has five podium finishes in six races so far, and is coming off a season-best second-place finish in Monaco last weekend. “One step higher than any other podium this year, but we’re still aiming for one step (higher) hopefully in the future races,” Alonso said. “Barcelona is going to be a celebration. We have so many Aston Martin fans in Spain now.”

A record crowd is expected this weekend to support Alonso and fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr. at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. More than 40,000 tickets were sold in the first few hours after being put on sale last year, and more tickets were made available again earlier this year. More than 100,000 people are expected for Sunday’s race.

Alonso, who won his F1 titles with Renault in 2005-06, is seeking his 33rd victory in the series. After coming up short of the title in 2013, he had a lackluster 2014 season with Ferrari and then struggled with McLaren from 2015-18. He spent a few seasons away from F1 before returning with Alpine in 2021, when he made his only podium appearance since leaving Ferrari in the race in Qatar.

Alonso, who also won in Barcelona in 2006, downplayed expectations ahead of this year’s Spanish GP despite his good start to the season, noting that defending champion Max Verstappen and Red Bull will remain the big favorites. “And we have to see in a normal circuit, what is the package of Mercedes and the upgrades that Ferrari will bring apparently to Barcelona as well. So we have to have the feet on the ground,” Alonso said.

The Spaniard said he doesn’t want to “disappoint anyone” by coming into his home race with too many expectations, and will not put “any pressure on my team or myself.”

“It’s going to be a few weekends in the year that we will just be seventh and eighth and we have to accept that and some others that we will fight for podiums,” he said. Alonso is third in the drivers’ standings after third-place finishes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Miami. He was fourth in Azerbaijan.

Verstappen has a 39-point lead over Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez and is 51 points ahead of Alonso. Verstappen won four of the first six races, finishing second in the other two behind Pérez. The Spanish GP is where Verstappen won his first race on his debut in 2016.

The race in Barcelona will be Aston Martin’s first since opening its factory in Silverstone.

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