MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — After claiming his 100th podium in Saudi Arabia in confusing and controversial circumstances, Fernando Alonso is looking for a better result at Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix than his two third-place finishes so far this Formula One season.
Maybe even his 33rd Formula One win, and first in 10 years.
The Aston Martin driver was behind the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in the first two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in what has been a one-sided championship so far.
Alosno believes the championship will become more competitive as the season progresses but is pleased with how his Aston Martin is performing leading into the Melbourne race.
Practice sessions for the Australian Grand Prix begin on Friday, with another session on Saturday prior to qualifying.
“At the moment we are extremely happy with the performance of the car, obviously. It was better than expected, especially in Jeddah,” Alonso said. “We arrived here with a good level of confidence. But, as I said, after a few events from now on, I think the cars will change a lot in a few areas through development.”
The 41-year-old Alonso became the sixth driver in Formula One to reach the 100-podium milestone when he finished third in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago in a race with a contentious postscript.
The Aston Martin driver was hit with a 10-second penalty for being slightly out of position at the start, which dropped him to fourth behind Mercedes’ George Russell.
Alonso was later reinstated to third after a successful appeal to FIA, arguing stewards had not informed Aston Martin of the penalty within the regulated timing.
Russell said on Thursday it was a strange situation but believes the correct call was made.
“Obviously it was the right decision. It was just a bit of a shame what a mess it was for everybody else,” Russell said. “I think from my side and our side, we didn’t feel like we deserved to finish in third position, but obviously it is quite a nice feeling when it is handed to you. But then when it is taken away, it was just all a bit silly.”
Alonso said although “the situation in Jeddah was not ideal,” he still enjoyed the experience of celebrating the achievement on the podium prior to the stewards’ deliberations.
As a result of the Jeddah situation, the grid box for the Australian Grand Prix and remaining races has been extended, with a center line added to help drivers start in the correct position.
Alonso last won an F1 race in Spain in 2013, but his pair of podium finishes in 2023 have excited fans in his homeland, including No. 1- ranked tennis player and compatriot Carlos Alcaraz.
Alcaraz dedicated a victory over Tommy Paul in the Miami Masters this week to the two-time world champion. After his triumph, Alcaraz wrote the words “33 soon” when signing off on the result on the broadcast camera lens. It prompted a friendly interaction between the pair on social media.
“It is crazy to see how Spain is now so enthusiastic again for Formula One, for everything that is happening. This is very nice to see,” Alonso said. “Hopefully we can reach that number, 33, and then go for 34.”
Verstappen, who leads the drivers’ championship by one point from Perez, believes Alonso is capable of ending the drought soon.
“I think Fernando should have won a lot more races. He deserves to. I would be happy to see him win No. 33 but also in a way, I would like to see him win more,” he said.
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Courtney Walsh, The Associated Press