MONACO (AP) — Ten years after last winning a Formula One race, Fernando Alonso fancies his chances of a victory in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.
The 41-year-old Spanish driver has four third-place finishes in five races with Aston Martin this season.
“I will attack more than any other weekend,” the two-time F1 champion said. ”I come here thinking I will try to win.”
While defending champion Max Verstappen leads the championship for Red Bull, it’s Alonso’s form that has captured the imagination of fans.
“If I tell you that I don’t come here thinking that I can win the race, I would lie to you,” said Alonso, who has 32 career F1 wins and 102 podium finishes. “Because this is a one-off opportunity.”
The razor-thin street circuit, where drivers often brush close to the walls, suits Alonso’s high-risk and slick driving style.
“We know Monaco, Singapore, there are specific race tracks,” he said. “You need to gain the confidence in the free practice, get closer and closer to the walls.”
He’ll warm up for that in the two practice sessions on Friday.
Alonso was 31 when he last won on the F1 circuit, driving for Ferrari at his home race in Spain in 2013. He’s won in Monaco twice but not since 2007 — when he was Lewis Hamilton’s teammate at McLaren and clinched victory from pole position.
Securing the pole is often crucial in Monaco because the sinewy circuit is very difficult to overtake on. So Alonso knows he needs to go flat-out in qualifying.
But while Red Bull is clearly the fastest car once again — with either Verstappen or teammate Sergio Perez winning every race — reliability issues and crashes are not uncommon in Monaco.
“If one of those things happens on a Sunday, automatically you close the gap massively and it starts to be more interesting,” Alonso said. “The championship is long, we will not give up.”
Alonso has not felt this good in a long time.
“It is just phenomenal what (Aston Martin) has done, the car is so enjoyable to drive,” he said. “So easy to drive, so fast.”
Alonso said the last time he felt so good in an F1 car was with Ferrari. In 2010, he was the championship runner-up to then-Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel by four points, and in 2012 he finished second behind Vettel by three points.
Verstappen is challenging himself to beat his own F1 record of 15 wins in a season from last year.
“I want to win more than 15 races,” the 25-year-old Dutch driver said. “Every year you try to do a little bit better. You just keep that pressure on yourself. It’s nice.”
Verstappen has won 38 races in his career and leads Perez 3-2 in wins this season.
The season was scheduled to have 23 races but that is now likely to be 22. Last weekend’s Emilia-Romagna GP was canceled because of deadly floods in Italy and is not expected to be rescheduled in a congested calendar.
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc literally knows Monaco better than any other driver, but he still hasn’t won a race in the principality.
Leclerc has taken the pole position the last two years. But in 2021 he crashed on his final qualifying lap and mechanics were unable to repair his car in time for the race. Last year, one of many botched team strategy calls in a chaotic season for Ferrari deprived him of victory. He dropped down to fourth place with Perez winning for Red Bull.
Four years ago, Leclerc retired from the race in his first season with Ferrari. In 2020, it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When you see (my) record it has not always been so easy on race day,” Leclerc said. “I hope we can reproduce a good performance this Saturday with a better Sunday this time.”
Leclerc has won five F1 races but is desperate to win in Monaco more than anywhere else, for very personal reasons.
He is from Monaco and grew up in an apartment perched over the start-finish line. He’s also friends with Prince Albert, whose hilltop palace overlooks the proceedings.
“It is always very special for me because those are the streets where I’ve grown up,” Leclerc said. “I know this city by heart, wherever I go on the track.”
As a kid, Leclerc used to love watching the red Ferrari cars flashing by underneath his home — and now it’s others who enjoy watching him.
“I’ve got some friends living right over the track,” said the 25-year-old Leclerc, who has one third-place finish this season, “and (they) can see the race from their apartments.”
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Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press