In less than 15 gut-wrenching seconds of Formula 1 chaos, Aston Martin’s Australian Grand Prix descended into despair.
After Fernando Alonso lost third place being pitched into a spin at the first corner, his team-mate Lance Stroll picked up the baton by pouncing on Alonso’s aggressor Carlos Sainz to hold third himself on the run to Turn 3.
Then Stroll locked his cold front right, missed the corner by a mile and fell to 12th, one place behind Alonso, as he desperately hurried out of the gravel trap.
Aston Martin’s crestfallen team members could not believe it. Third and sixth, minimum, became nothing in an instant. Another fine weekend’s work, another podium, another bumper points haul was snatched away.
Then, incredibly, a reprieve. What was lost in 15 seconds took about 15 minutes to be regained as the FIA finally communicated that the very last restart, rolling round to the flag behind the safety car, would return to the order for the previous start.
It must have felt like an eternity, but it was worth the wait. Alonso was back to third, Stroll reinstated to sixth – which became fifth because Pierre Gasly’s Alpine had been eliminated, and eventually fourth as Sainz picked up a penalty for the Alonso hit.
“We had a rollercoaster of emotions,” was Alonso’s summary. Team principal Mike Krack used the same word. If anything, it doesn’t quite do it justice.
“We lived it the way you live it on TV as well,” said Krack.
“You have the restart, and then there was all these incidents.
Alonso was no fan of the red flag in the first place – it was met with a sharp “What?!” at the time – so that would no doubt have fuelled the sense of injustice he felt at being nerfed out of another podium.
But in classic Alonso fashion, he was also very sharp at realising he might yet get it back. While he almost certainly didn’t influence what followed, he was keen to ensure Aston Martin took no chances.
In the car, seconds after the red flag was thrown, Alonso recalled what happened last year at Silverstone, when a stoppage after the start necessitated a restart in the full original order: “Check it immediately,” he insisted after mentioning it.
“That’s typical,” said Krack. “He remembers every race he’s done, and what happened where, and what we should look at!
“That’s pretty impressive.
“We were pretty confident it would be ordered like that, but you never know.”
Unlike Alonso, Stroll’s agonising wait after the chaos did not even have the silver lining of knowing he was not at all to blame for his fall down the order.
Stroll was “pretty heartbroken” with his mistake on “ice-cold” tyres trying to hold off Sainz while on the dirty side of the track.
With all that considered, his reprieve was probably felt even more deeply than Alonso’s. Had he ever experienced an end to a race like that?
“No, not with that level of…sadness, and disappointment, to then finally crossing the finish line very happy with the result,” Stroll said.
“I thought I’d threw away the podium for a second. It would have been hard to sleep tonight.”
After their respective incidents, there was the small matter of getting the cars back to the pits and being able to take the very last restart.
It sounds simple enough in theory but not to be taken for granted given Alonso was hit in the right rear and lightly nudged the wall.
Stroll said he was “lucky” to even get the car back on track after Sergio Perez beached his Red Bull in the same place in qualifying on Saturday.
“It was important that the cars were alive and driveable,” said Krack.
“Others were not. I have to say we were lucky at that point.
“But we have not stolen anything. We were in the positions that we were in before that.”
Drivers and teams have plenty of bad luck through a season or a career, so getting punted out of a podium is unlucky but hardly unprecedented.
What is extremely rare is for the ill-fated to have their misfortune undone.
As he reflected on Aston Martin’s start to the season and the fact his team is fighting with Mercedes and Ferrari on merit, Alonso said: “For us, it’s all happy days at the moment.”
This was so very nearly not the case in Australia.