The bold strategy behind Alonso’s F1 comeback podium

At the end of a long triple-header, the Formula 1 drivers faced an added challenge last weekend as they visited a brand new track in Qatar.

Without the normal amount of data to analyse from previous races, drivers were unsure what to expect from the Losail International Circuit - but it ended up being a familiar result as Lewis Hamilton scored his seventh win of the season and cut down Max Verstappen’s championship lead.

But it was Fernando Alonso who completed the podium after Alpine pulled off a risky one-stop strategy to give the two-time world champion his best result since returning to F1.

The lack of previous running around the smooth, fast-flowing Losail track meant teams faced some big strategy curveballs. The high-speed corners meant a great amount of load was being placed through the tyres, making a one-stop strategy risky - something that would later become clear as four different drivers suffered tyre failures.


Winning in F1 is all about executing a highly tuned plan. The same applies to poker. See where your game plan can get you. Click here to start your game plan.

18+, New UK players only, min £10 deposit, Full T&Cs Apply, begambleaware.org, Play Responsibly.


Verstappen started seventh on the grid after he was penalised for not slowing for yellow flags in qualifying, but fought his way back up to second place within five laps.

Hamilton was already four seconds clear by this point. He extended his lead through the first stint as Mercedes made its pace advantage clear, and Verstappen struggled with some front wing endplate damage picked up from one of the kerbs.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

It meant Red Bull had to think outside of the box to stand any chance of beating Hamilton. Verstappen was called into the pits on lap 17 for hard tyres, which was early to think about a one-stop strategy, but tyre degradation was proving much lower than expected, making it a possibility.

Mercedes responded one lap later to cover Verstappen off, putting Hamilton on the same strategy. Hamilton told his team it was “definitely way too early to stop”, but got his head down and continued to build the gap to Verstappen.

Behind the lead duo, an enthralling fight for third place was unfolding as their team-mates, Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas, fought their way back up the order and tried to catch Alonso, who was chasing his first podium in over seven years.

Perez tried to get the undercut on Alonso by pitting early, but was dropped into traffic, meaning the Alpine driver stayed ahead after completing his pit stop on lap 23. Bottas was going for a long stint on the mediums to try and open up a tyre delta that would set him up for a late charge - only for drama to then strike the Mercedes driver.

The first of four punctures in the race hit on lap 34 when Bottas lost his front-left tyre without any warning. As it was early in the lap, he had a long way to crawl back to the pits, ending his hopes of a podium. Mercedes sent him back out, but would later retire the car due to damage sustained.

It sounded alarm bells for the front-runners, who didn’t want to risk a similar issue. Verstappen pitted on Lap 41 before Hamilton came in one lap later, again covering his rival. Both took a set of mediums that would easily see them to the end of the race. Verstappen would later make a third stop so he could set the fastest lap, getting the bonus point to mean he is eight points clear of Hamilton with two races to go.

Red Bull also pitted Perez on the same lap as Verstappen. The Mexican driver immediately questioned the decision, fearing the team may have thrown away an easy podium as Alonso and Alpine tried to make a one-stop strategy work.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Alonso told team-mate Esteban Ocon to “defend like a lion” and keep Perez back, but despite his best efforts, Ocon was powerless to do so given the Red Bull’s pace advantage. The fight for third place was set to go to the wire.

As the laps ticked down, more punctures occurred. Lando Norris, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi all hit trouble within two laps of each other, putting Alonso on edge if he wanted to clinch that long-awaited podium.

Perez continued to cut the gap to Alonso in the closing stages, only for a late Virtual Safety Car to stunt his charge and slow the field down for a couple of laps. It meant Alonso could hold on by three seconds and grab his first podium since Hungary 2014, more than 100 races ago.

Pirelli has confirmed it will investigate the tyre issues in Qatar, but said that a one-stop strategy was always going to be risky.

But Alonso managed his tyres perfectly, clinching third place and giving Alpine a big haul of points in the constructors' fight for P5 against AlphaTauri.

It rolled back the years for the Spaniard, who is clearly enjoying life back in F1 after a couple of years away - and now, he also has some silverware to show for it.

shares
comments
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021’s title fight climax
Previous article

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021’s title fight climax

Next article

Why F1’s inconvenient penalties have to stay

Why F1’s inconvenient penalties have to stay
How departing F1 boss Brawn views F1’s new rules - and the future Plus

How departing F1 boss Brawn views F1’s new rules - and the future

Multiple-title-winning designer and team boss Ross Brawn is finally leaving Formula 1 after nearly 50 years in motorsport. But he still has plenty of insights on what’s working and what comes next, as he revealed to Autosport in a far-reaching exclusive interview in Abu Dhabi

Formula 1
Dec 2, 2022
The key F1 management call Ferrari must make to avoid more defeat Plus

The key F1 management call Ferrari must make to avoid more defeat

OPINION: Mattia Binotto’s departure from Ferrari will naturally bring a range of changes across the Formula 1 team. But how the changes shape up and the impact they could have is set to be dictated by a key direction Ferrari’s top dogs will need to pick

Formula 1
Nov 30, 2022
The difference between Mercedes’ stumble and the fall of F1 giants Plus

The difference between Mercedes’ stumble and the fall of F1 giants

OPINION: Mercedes endured its worst season of the hybrid Formula 1 era, but was mercifully spared its first winless campaign in over a decade late on. It has owned up to the mistakes it made which led to its troubled W13. And while its task to return to title-challenging contention is not small, its 2022 season seems more like a blip than the beginning of a downward spiral.

Formula 1
Nov 29, 2022
The physical focus bringing out the best of an F1 midfield star Plus

The physical focus bringing out the best of an F1 midfield star

Esteban Ocon likes to point out he’s the first driver since Lewis Hamilton to emerge from a spell as Fernando Alonso’s team-mate with a superior overall points record. While some may disagree, as LUKE SMITH discovered, the 2021 Hungarian GP winner reckons it’s not just luck which has made him France’s pre-eminent Formula 1 driver of the moment…

Formula 1
Nov 28, 2022
How Red Bull's dynamic leader shaped its F1 philosophy Plus

How Red Bull's dynamic leader shaped its F1 philosophy

The death of Dietrich Mateschitz last month has not only deprived Red Bull of its visionary founder, it has shorn Formula 1 of one of its most influential benefactors. Mateschitz himself was famously media-shy, preferring to let the brand do the talking on his behalf. And, while it’s now normal to speak of Red Bull F1 titles and champions made, Mateschitz never assumed it would be easy or even possible – as ANTHONY ROWLINSON discovered during this previously unpublished interview from 2006…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2022
Can Mercedes break Formula 1's cycle of doom? Plus

Can Mercedes break Formula 1's cycle of doom?

OPINION: Teams that have dominated for long periods throughout Formula 1's history often take years to get back to the top of the tree once they've slipped down. But it remains to be seen whether the same will happen to Mercedes after a challenging 2022 season

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2022
What hurt Perez most in his ill-fated fight for second in Abu Dhabi Plus

What hurt Perez most in his ill-fated fight for second in Abu Dhabi

Arguably the favourite in the battle to finish second best in 2022's Formula 1 standings, Sergio Perez's two-stop strategy at Abu Dhabi couldn't take him ahead of Charles Leclerc when the music stopped - and several key factors ultimately precluded him from the much-coveted runner-up spot

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2022
The Abu Dhabi momentum that can propel Leclerc and Ferrari to F1 2023 success Plus

The Abu Dhabi momentum that can propel Leclerc and Ferrari to F1 2023 success

OPINION: Charles Leclerc achieved his target of sealing runner-up in the 2022 world championship with a masterful drive behind Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi. And that race contained key elements that may help him, and Ferrari, go one better in Formula 1 2023

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2022