With re-branding commonplace in Formula One, this Aston Martin team might consider calling itself ‘Awesome Martin’ after a stunning start to the season at Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso showed his talent is not fading at the advanced age of 41, finishing third to give the Spanish driver a 99th career podium in his team debut.
Although Alonso impressed in pre-season testing, when his teammate Lance Stroll was recovering from injury, Alonso still felt he was dreaming after only his second podium since 2014.
“I had the same feeling from testing — it’s too good to be true. You’re always expecting that you will (take) a step back and you will get back to reality. But it seems real,” the two-time F1 champion enthused. “I really enjoyed the race and, even after the checkered flag, I felt like I could have driven for another hour.”
It seems Red Bull’s may be already too far ahead to catch, with a dominant Max Verstappen leading a 1-2 under floodlights in Bahrain.
But could Aston Martin jump past Mercedes and Ferrari to become the main challenger?
Another strong performance in Saudi Arabia on March 19 will increase the hype, although Alonso is measured in his optimism.
“This weekend feels like a dream, but we must stay realistic,” Alonso said. “Jeddah is a very different kind of circuit, a very different challenge. I cannot wait to get back in the car.”
Many observers wondered how Alonso would get on at Aston Martin, after some difficult relations at his former teams. Most recently at Alpine, where he suddenly announced last summer that he was leaving.
Before that, he’d parted on bad terms with Ferrari at the end of 2014 and endured a miserable four-year spell without a single podium at McLaren, where he was critical of the car’s performance and its engines.
And how would he get on with Stroll, the owner’s son?
So far, so good.
Stroll finished sixth in Bahrain even though he wasn’t even expected to race after a bicycle accident ruled him out of preseason testing and left him needing surgery on his right wrist.
Stroll, who had also broken a toe in his accident, drew high praise from Alonso.
“An incredible effort from Lance, who was a hero today for driving so well so soon after his injury,” Alonso said. “You can feel the energy in the team: everybody is working flat out at the moment and we are all very motivated.”
Alonso has long been considered one of the very best talents in F1, with seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton previously calling him the toughest on-track opponent in his career.
Stroll does not have the same ability as Alonso, yet few do.
The 24-year-old Canadian driver has three career podiums but also has his share of critics, who have often pointed out his dad Lawrence Stroll owns the team. But no one could question Lance Stroll’s grit in getting behind the wheel in Bahrain.
“It was not the most comfortable race for me, because of the injuries I have been dealing with, but to finish sixth has made it worth enduring all that pain,” Stroll said. “Even with the adrenaline, the pain was the biggest limiting factor in the second half of the race. I must thank everyone who has helped me be in the best shape possible for today. I will now use the coming days ahead of Jeddah to work on recovery.”
Stroll qualified eighth, but made a good enough start to bump into Alonso, who started from fifth.
“I thought it was (Mercedes driver) George (Russell), but I saw in the replay it was Lance,” Alonso joked after the race. “It was our lucky day, from this contact and also to (score) very strong points.”
Team principal Mike Krack must be pinching himself at how smoothly Aston Martin’s transition has gone.
The team finished seventh in the constructors’ championship last year with 55 points — with no points from the first three races and no podiums all year from Stroll or four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, whose retirement opened the door for Alonso.
Aston Martin already has 23 points and a podium, while the interaction between Alonso, Stroll and the whole green-clad “Awesome Martin” crew is clear to see.
“Fernando has been buzzing all weekend and that energy has transferred throughout the team,” Krack said. “As for Lance, just to be competing has been a heroic effort, and to see him finish sixth, after a great pass on George is a superb effort. It is a massively impressive performance.”