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Formula 1

Alonso's odd choice for his best 2023 races - is he right?

by Ben Anderson
6 min read

Fernando Alonso enjoyed one of the strongest seasons of his long Formula 1 career in 2023 - one he now ranks alongside 2012 as his personal best - and can pick out many highlights from the eight podium finishes he amassed. 

But there’s another race, to an unremarkable finish, that he feels belongs in his highlight reel.

Alonso places Bahrain, where he overtook Lewis Hamilton around his outside, Monaco, where only over-cautious strategy denied him a victory, Canada, where he held off Hamilton’s Mercedes for second, and Brazil, where Alonso somehow held off Sergio Perez’s faster Red Bull to finish third, in “my top four, top five of the year”, but to those he adds Monza - where he finished ninth, 46 seconds off the win. 

“I put Monza on purpose because it was a ninth place,” Alonso said. “And it was not a podium, it was nothing that people will remember.

“But probably we had the slowest car in Monza, or the second slowest, and to be in the points, it was one of those weekends that everything was very good.”

DOES ALONSO’S MONZA CLAIM STACK UP?

For Alonso to declare his Aston the slowest, or second slowest, car at Monza is veering into the sort of hyperbole that is characteristic of Alonso when he is bigging himself up to the media. 

Alonso was comfortably inside the top 10 during every practice and qualifying session of the 2023 Italian Grand Prix, and even if you largely credit this to Alonso’s virtuosity it’s difficult to argue the Aston was definitively a slower car at that event than the Haas, the Alpine or the Alfa Romeo.

Although Lance Stroll was slowest of all in Q1, he had the excuse of missing virtually all of Friday practice. 

Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg barely escaped Q1, and in Q2 were miles off Alonso’s pace.

The Alpines were so slow that weekend the team was mobilised into developing an aggressive low-drag upgrade solution in time for Las Vegas.

The Aston was known to be one of the draggier of 2023’s F1 cars too, but by this stage of the season, although some unfortunate instabilities had been introduced, the car was improving slightly in terms of its high-speed performance.

Both AlphaTauri drivers felt they underperformed slightly in Q3 at Monza, and Alonso split the McLaren drivers - also suffering with a draggy aero package here.

The Red Bulls, Ferraris, Mercedes and the Williams (in Alex Albon’s hands) were unquestionably quicker than the Aston.

So, being generous to Alonso, he had probably the sixth best car at worst for Monza - meaning a ninth place was about the best he could hope for, given Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes filled the top six positions, Albon was seventh and McLaren’s Lando Norris was eighth.

Had Lewis Hamilton not driven into Oscar Piastri, that ninth place would probably have been 10th.

So, ninth for Alonso here was either a marginal over-achievement, given Yuki Tsunoda’s potentially quicker AlphaTauri broke down on the formation lap, or absolutely par for the course if you consider the Aston to have been marginally faster than the AlphaTauri around Monza.

IF NOT MONZA, WHICH WERE ALONSO’S BEST RACES?

Edd Straw ranked Alonso 9th of F1’s 20 drivers for his performance at Monza, saying Alonso “squeezed up against what appeared to be the ceiling of what he called a difficult car”.

But Bottas - who finished one placed behind Alonso in 10th - was ranked inside the top six, having driven an objectively worse car into the top 10, with a bit of help from others having messy races.

Certainly there were other grands prix in 2023 where Alonso was ranked better than ninth. 

But he was especially grumpy about Aston’s performance at Monza, and even said after the race that he would remember this weekend because of how difficult it was. In that, at least, he has remained consistent in what he says.

Perhaps the stark contrast with Canada - another high-speed, low-drag circuit punctuated by chicanes - is what made Monza stand out so much in Alonso’s mind.

Canada is the race Scott Mitchell-Malm would pick for Alonso’s best of 2023, saying: “Boring as it is to pick one of Alonso's joint-best results of 2023, it's hard not to. 

“Canada stands out because it was an all-round strong performance, both in qualifying in awkward conditions and in the race when he had to re-pass Hamilton. 

“To finish so close to Verstappen [within 10s] was one thing, but to hammer team-mate Stroll by nearly a minute showed this was not all about the car.”

Mark Hughes opted for one of the other two races where Alonso finished second to Verstappen.

“Don't know if it was his best, but Zandvoort was my favourite,” Hughes said. 

“His awesome off-line passes on the first lap were the foundation of a result which flattered the car - and even the way he stalked Verstappen on the restart was so smart.”

HOW GOOD WAS ALONSO’S SEASON OVERALL?

Certainly this has to rank among Alonso’s best seasons in Formula 1. 

To finish fourth in the drivers’ championship, ahead of both Ferrari drivers, Lando Norris and George Russell, was a fine achievement in a car that started the season as clearly the second best but was also very clearly out-developed by Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren.

The Race rated Alonso F1’s second best driver of 2023, behind Verstappen, while Alonso himself rates this season as on par with his 2012 title near-miss for Ferrari against Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull - a campaign he now considers alongside 2023 as the equal best of his long career.

“I’m happy. And with the personal personal performance, I think, together with 2012 [this] is the best season for me,” Alonso said. 

“Personally, I rate [2023] the best season in my my driving, and I was happy with with everything - I was motivated, I was fit, I was performing, in difficult conditions sometimes. 

“Bahrain, Monaco, Canada, Monza, and Brazil will be my top four, top five of the year.”

Alonso was asked specifically about Zandvoort, where he finished second to Verstappen in the wet, but Alonso declared the car “very good there” so refrained from adding that one to his personal list of favourites.

He did, however, agree “100%” with the suggestion his own motivation had increased thanks to Aston Martin’s uptick in performance.

“Always motivation comes with results,” Alonso added. “You cannot hide this fact.

“Even if you are very motivated, even if you are very determined to achieve things, if the results are not coming in a medium [to] long term, this is impossible to keep up always.

“So, to be competitive, to feel the speed again, and to arrive to the weekends knowing that you need to do everything perfect, because there is a possibility we win a race, that obviously gives you a very different approach and a very different love for the things you do.”

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