Fernando Alonso is wary that Aston Martin’s drag reduction system is not “bulletproof” going into Formula 1’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, as his team bids to salvage a misleading weekend.
Alonso, who has finished third in every race so far this season, and team-mate Lance Stroll will start sixth and ninth respectively in Baku on Sunday, their worst grid positions of the season.
As it follows Aston Martin suffering a straightline speed deficit in the early races, and the unique Baku layout making top speed a crucial performance factor, the underwhelming result suggests Aston Martin is struggling more this weekend.
But the picture has been warped by an intermittent DRS activation problem that blighted both cars through Friday practice and qualifying.
Neither drivers had use of the DRS on the start-finish straight for the start or end to their fastest laps in Q3 and Aston Martin felt Alonso would have easily qualified fourth for the grand prix with a functioning DRS.
This continued in the sprint shootout where without the DRS Stroll needed a tow from Alonso to even make the top 10, and they ended up qualifying eighth (Alonso) and ninth (Stroll) for the sprint race.
The recurrence of the problem mainly on the main straight rather than the second DRS zone suggests a specific problem relating to the pressure on the wing at the highest speed, exaggerated by the bumps on that straight too, which caused the wing to oscillate in such a way that the DRS flap would not open.
It is understood to have functioned better in traffic, when the airflow and pressure on the wing would have been different, and worked in the sprint race on Saturday.
But two-time world champion Alonso said Aston Martin “cannot be 100% sure” the issue will not return: “We’ve had problems every session so I don’t think that the system is bulletproof into tomorrow’s race.
“But it’s the way it is. Even with the DRS it seems very difficult to overtake when you are following cars so maybe it’s not the key factor tomorrow even if it doesn’t work.”
Alonso was at least able to pass two cars in the sprint to finish sixth while Stroll grabbed a point in eighth after overtaking Lando Norris and Alex Albon. That helped preserve Aston Martin’s second place in the championship, six points ahead of Mercedes.
And the fact the DRS worked on both cars in race conditions is a silver lining that this weekend can be salvaged.
Alonso admitted there was concern going into the sprint but that race left him “more optimistic” that Aston Martin had a chance to make progress in Sunday’s grand prix as well.
He has targeted finishing in the top five, saying that result “on a difficult weekend will be very good news”.
Asked by The Race if the DRS problem had skewed the perception of Aston Martin’s race weekend and that the outlook would have been different had it worked from the start, Alonso said: “I think so, yesterday’s lap with the DRS open was P4 so if I start P4 I think we’ll have a different opinion of the weekend.
“Our performance is more or less as expected. The Ferraris are quicker here than the first two races.
“But let’s see if we all finish the race. The race is very complex here, we need to see the chequered flag to see how many points we have.
“Our main rival in the constructors’ at the moment is Mercedes.
“George [Russell] starts P11 tomorrow so we still have an opportunity to outscore Mercedes tomorrow if we finish with both cars in the points and that’s the target.”