MONACO (AP) — Fernando Alonso has five podiums in six races in a remarkable season for Aston Martin, yet still feels he’s no closer to catching Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The two-time Formula One champions now head to a race with special significance for both of them.
Next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix is where Verstappen won his first race as an 18-year-old in his Red Bull debut in 2016.
It’s also where Alonso last won a race in 2013, so it would be the perfect place for the 41-year-old Spaniard to end his winless run.
“Yeah, but I will not put any pressure on my team or myself,” Alonso said after finishing second behind Verstappen at Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix. “I will not get into Barcelona thinking that I will win, and (then) disappoint anyone. We have to have (our) feet on the ground.”
Verstappen’s win seven years ago in Spain was a performance of stunning audacity. It showcased a raw ability that has since carried him to two world championships, the second secured with a record-breaking 15 F1 wins last year.
Yet the 2016 win in Spain also came in exceptional circumstances, after both Mercedes crashed into each other and out of the race amid a feuding rivalry between then-teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Alonso believes only a similar mishap can stop Red Bull’s unrelenting run this season stretching to seven straight wins. Verstappen has won four races while teammate Sergio Perez has the other two victories, although Perez scored no points in Monaco after starting last following a mistake in qualifying.
“We will need weekends where Red Bull has some issues like Sergio had here with zero points. And if Max has one or two of those, we will be a little bit closer in the championship,” Alonso said. “But on pure pace, I think we don’t have the chance yet.”
Even though Alonso almost took the pole in Monaco, with Verstappen edging him by just .084 seconds, that didn’t raise his hopes.
“(Saturday) was very close in qualifying, but in the race we saw Red Bull again very dominant,” Alonso said. “So we have to accept that next weekend will be maybe (like) any other race this year, where Red Bull is untouchable.”
The mutual respect between Alonso and Verstappen is considerable, with the normally reserved Verstappen even joking he might try to help Alonso win a race.
“I’ll think about it. I’d like to see Fernando win,” Verstappen said Saturday. “I love watching his style.”
Perhaps because it reminds him of his own: single-minded, dynamic, lightning-quick, nerveless in difficult conditions.
By winning in Monaco, Verstappen broke Red Bull’s record for most wins with his 39th — one more than Sebastian Vettel managed on his way to four straight F1 titles from 2010-13.
Verstappen is only two behind the late Ayrton Senna’s total of 41 wins and is well placed to equal Senna’s three world titles. Verstappen leads Perez this season by 39 points and Alonso by 51.
Alonso finished as the F1 runner-up in 2010 to Vettel by four points and by three points to Vettel in 2012. But Verstappen seems on another level even to Vettel.
“Now there is Red Bull and Max dominating every race and even with great results, you’re just stepping behind them, every race,” Alonso said. “But we will not give up.”
Alonso motivates himself by looking at the podium after each Red Bull win.
“I will always take a picture (of first place) at the end, after the champagne,” he said. “I will love to receive the trophy from there.”
Verstappen was asked at which track he could next be vulnerable.
“It’s difficult to say,” he replied ominously.
Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press