Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin sprung a surprise on the opening day of the Formula 1 2023 season by topping second practice at the Bahrain Grand Prix to leave Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes trailing.
Disrupting F1’s long-established top three and confirming their status as frontrunners heading into the season-opening weekend, Aston Martin were flying in Alonso’s control and the double world champion ended Friday’s running on top with a 1:30.907 in the representative evening conditions.
Alonso, 41, was a tenth and a half quicker than the favoured Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who were split by just 0.002s.
“It’s another step in the right direction,” Alonso, a new signing for the team that finished seventh last year, said. “The car feels good. But it’s still early days.”
There was then a large gap to the next fastest team, Ferrari.
Charles Leclerc had unleashed pace early on in P2 to go fastest but was overhauled at the top by Lance Stroll, Nico Hulkenberg, Perez and then Alonso, and finished the hour 0.460s off the front.
He ended up fourth, just ahead of Hulkenberg in the Haas, Stroll in the other Aston Martin and, another surprise challenger, Pierre Gasly in the Alpine.
Lewis Hamilton was the lead Mercedes in eighth, six-tenths off the pace in that extremely closely-matched midfield.
The seven-time world champion appeared to be struggling for grip in a W14 car that ended Friday as the sixth-fastest on the grid. George Russell could only manage 13th.
McLaren’s Lando Norris, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and the Alfa Romeos of Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas all managed to split the Mercedes.
Russell did finish practice ahead of the struggling Carlos Sainz, though, with the Ferrari driver over a second off the pace in 14th.
Bahrain GP Practice Two Timesheet
|1) Fernando Alonso||Aston Martin||1:30.907|
|2) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+0.169|
|3) Sergio Perez||Red Bull||+0.171|
|4) Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||+0.460|
|5) Nico Hulkenberg||Haas||+0.469|
|6) Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+0.543|
|7) Pierre Gasly||Alpine||+0.568|
|8) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+0.636|
|9) Lando Norris||McLaren||+0.663|
|10) Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo||+0.679|
|11) Esteban Ocon||Alpine||+0.701|
|12) Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo||+0.886|
|13) George Russell||Mercedes||+0.975|
|14) Carlos Sainz||Ferrari||+1.049|
|15) Oscar Piastri||McLaren||+1.117|
|16) Kevin Magnussen||Haas||+1.203|
|17) Alex Albon||Williams||+1.533|
|18) Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri||+1.618|
|19) Nyck de Vries||AlphaTauri||+1.698|
|20) Logan Sargeant||Williams||+1.842|
Aston Martin shock F1’s elite to start 2023
Aston Martin finished seventh in the championship last season but, after a string of hires behind the scenes and a wonderful pre-season, arrived at the first race genuine competitors. But nobody predicted this.
Alonso, driving for his fifth team, had the Aston Martin planted through Sakhir’s tricky twisty sections while the Mercedes-powered car was also competitive on the straights, unlike the works team.
While Red Bull’s race runs appeared quicker, Aston Martin look to be a threat for F1’s elite.
“Their car looks great,” said Red Bull’s Christian Horner between practice sessions. “They had some really impressive race runs last week. Fernando looks… I don’t know what he’s taking, but he’s looking great on it – he looks on fire.
“I think they could be a real surprise this year. They’re really a bit of a dark horse. It just shows that it is possible to take a jump from the midfield to potentially further up.”
The only, very small, negative for Aston Martin on a startling day was Stroll’s discomfort in the other car.
While the Canadian – who missed pre-season testing due to a wrist injury – wasn’t too far off Alonso’s pace, he seemed to be struggling post-surgery through Turns One and Two.
Hamilton: Mercedes ‘long way off’
Mercedes were one of the biggest disappointments on the opening day, and a despondent Hamilton said his team are a “long way off” fighting at the front – while also admitting his concerns of reeling in Red Bull and Aston Martin with the “concept we have”.
“We found out we are a long way off,” said Hamilton, who was six tenths off Alonso’s best time in P2. “We kind of knew that a little bit in the test but it is a big gap.
“With Red Bull, looking at the long runs, they are a second a lap faster so we have got a lot to work on.
“I thought that the Ferraris were second but on a long run we are close to Ferrari. It looks like the Aston was second and we are kind of between third or fourth.
“So we are kind of where we were last year, if not a bit further behind.”
Hamilton was also damning about Mercedes car concept – which the team have retained for this year despite the rest of the grid going in a different direction.
“Do I believe we can close the gap at some stage? Yes… but I think it is quite hard with the concept we have.”
Formula 1 is back! Watch the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race are live at 3pm. Get Sky Sports