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Formula 1

Alonso's rare admission should worry Aston Martin

by Edd Straw
5 min read

Poor Fernando Alonso performances in Formula 1 are rare and account for only a small number of his 387 grand prix weekends.

But, by his own admission, the recent Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was one of them - which he finished 19th after a catalogue of problems but also mistakes.

And that’s bad news for Aston Martin, not because it indicates Alonso has hit a sudden, precipitous decline, but because his history tells us that he can be prone to a certain belligerence behind the wheel when forced to fight a futile battle.

That's neither something that happens regularly, nor an accusation he is giving up - far from it.

However, Alonso very occasionally drifts into an almost counterproductive way of driving that he knows is asking too much from the car either in search of a response that should be there but isn’t, or through pure frustration.

Several of his late-2018 outings for McLaren exhibited that tendency, as did moments during the middle stages of his final Renault campaign in 2009.

It’s rare, but happens enough to be a recognisable pattern even though for the most part he hauls mighty performances even from limited machinery.

It's a concern for Aston Martin as it confirms the impression that its upgrade programme is not yielding the anticipated gains. While the car is getting a little quicker in absolute terms, it’s sliding into the back half of the field relatively. It remains a tricky-to-drive car and that's clearly frustrating Alonso.

“I think we dropped in performance relative to the others,” said Alonso, when asked if Aston Martin’s struggles in Miami and at Imola were representative or circumstantial.

“We increased the performance that our car had, but the others seemed to make a step a little bit bigger than us and we dropped a little bit in terms of positions.

“In my case, I was not perfect in those two races. I was not driving well enough in Miami and in Imola.

"It was more the search for answers that drives me sometimes on a weekend when I know the goals will not be good enough to satisfy us or myself.

"When you’re not fighting for the top five or top seven or whatever, sometimes you switch into a set-up thing or test weekend because I’d prefer to fix the problems of the car and give up that weekend and start from scratch at the next one than to finish ninth.

“It’s what happened in Imola a little bit in FP3 and then in qualifying and the race, which obviously on one side is good because maybe we accelerate the fix of the problems a little bit.

“On the other side, that weekend is maybe zero points or you are a little bit less competitive than normal.

"You need to combine normal weekends where you maximise the package and the points that are available, even if it’s ninth, and some other weekends you need to think, ‘OK, we give up ninth today because we need to shortcut a little bit the times that we have for fixing the car’.”

This has worrying echoes of last season for Aston Martin. It started 2023 well before struggling in the middle stages of the season as upgrades created some unwanted characteristics.

It took the team some time to understand the package and it wasn’t until late on that it was once again able to get the best out of the machinery. This year started well, albeit more modestly in terms of results, but it again appears to be struggling to keep pace in the development war.

When Alonso was asked about the problems with the car and team-mate Lance Stroll’s complaints about corner-entry oversteer that transitions into mid-corner understeer, he said he and Stroll were aligned.

“We both have similar feelings on the car and similar comments,” said Alonso. “There are a couple of set-up tools and directions that could improve that, something that we were testing on my car in Imola on Sunday for example. But fundamentally we need to keep working on the balance of the car.

“We added downforce in all the upgrades that we brought to the track but we still cannot use all that downforce in an efficient way in laptime because the balance is maybe not totally perfect in the corners. But I think we understand this. We have a couple of ideas that in the next development of the car and upgrades we’ll try to fix these kinds of problems.

“We are not blind to the dark. We are aware of the situation. But at the same time it’s the nature of these cars as well that as you add downforce they become a little bit more critical and more difficult to drive. And this is something that we need to fix.”

Alonso will see the Monaco GP weekend as an opportunity, as one special qualifying lap here can be converted into a good result thanks to the power of track position. However, he admitted that as a team “last year maybe we had higher hopes than this year” given the slow-corner strengths of the 2023 car, which qualified and finished second in Alonso's hands.

But he claimed to have a “good feeling” heading into the weekend and it’s likely that the sniff of an opportunity should ensure he’ll avoid falling into the trap of grasping for something the car isn’t capable of doing.

“Monaco is very unique,” said Alonso. “I came here with very competitive cars and we were not very competitive and vice versa. I came here with difficult cars and then that weekend I was fifth or sixth. It’s a little bit unknown. You need to get confidence in the car in FP1. That will build the momentum into qualifying and then the race is just a different story.

“Things are so close between all the teams that here you can be in the top five or out in Q1 with two tenths of a second. This is a little bit difficult to predict at the moment. But I have a good feeling this weekend.”

While Monaco could yield a decent result, the wider development struggles are a concern for Aston Martin. Alonso is the ideal barometer for a team’s progress and while he’s not so naive as to expect miracles, he will need to see signs of gains given the threat of sliding into the back half of the grid for good.

A frustrated Alonso on track is never a good sign. He recently committed his long-term future to the team, so he's convinced Aston Martin can deliver on its ambitions to emerge as a regular race winner.

But there are legitimate question marks about Aston Martin's ability to add sufficient performance both in terms of downforce and characteristics improvements that his difficult recent run throws into sharp relief.

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