Alpine’s improved form over the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend, which was its strongest performance of the 2021 Formula 1 season so far, will raise expectations for home hero Fernando Alonso’s Spanish Grand Prix weekend. But by his own admission, if he doesn’t improve in a key area, his homecoming could be “compromised.”
Alonso has won the Spanish Grand Prix twice, but on his first race outing on home soil since 2018, in addition to question marks over whether Alpine can sustain its improved form at a more heavily aero-dependent circuit, he accepts his qualifying struggles could be a big weakness.
Both in Barcelona and in the following race in Monaco, overtaking is extremely difficult. While Alonso qualified well in the Bahrain season-opener, making Q3, he lined up 15th at Imola and 13th in Portugal. Recovering to the points after qualifying underachievement will be more difficult in Spain.
“We don’t know yet,” said Alonso when asked by The Race if it was possible for the form to carry over into this weekend.
“We’re still discovering things on the car every weekend. It’s been different circuit characteristics so far, [with] very different conditions as well – from the heat of Bahrain and the slow speed corners with the combinations of long straights to the damp Imola and the wind in Portimao. So we have to keep learning.
“The main focus for us is Barcelona and Monaco. In my case, personally, even more because I need to get better, more comfortable with the car, especially in qualifying.
“We had a good car [in Portugal] and I didn’t perform on Saturday. If that happened in Barcelona or Monaco, my weekend is very highly compromised, so I cannot afford that and I will try to be more prepared next time.”
While Alonso’s race performance in Portugal showed he’s capable of consistent pace in the grand prix itself, it was easier to gain places at the Algarve circuit than it will be in the next two grands prix.
Alonso intends to focus a significant proportion of his preparation effort on single-lap pace to ensure he is far enough up the grid to fight for points. If the Alpine is competitive enough to qualify in the top 10 and Alonso delivers a strong enough qualifying performance, he will have the race pace to stay there.
But heavily aero-dependent Barcelona has not been a happy hunting ground for the team in recent years, as it failed to finish in the top 10 in both 2019 and 2020.
Alonso believes his problem in qualifying is not about failing to extract the peak of grip from the tyres, but instead in adapting to varying conditions.
“It was very difficult last year for the team, so we will try to get better, we’ll try to learn from whatever problem they felt last year.
“The next two tracks, the qualifying is quite important because the race is a little bit harder to overtake than in Portimao. So we will focus a lot on this.
“There is some homework to do for everybody – for me, some extra, just to get better on Saturday.
“It’s not extracting the maximum from the one-lap tyres because in FP2 or FP3 you put the soft on, you do one lap and performance was there. So it’s all about the changeable conditions in – if it’s less grip, more grip, if it’s windier, whatever changed on track.
“I need to be ready and understand it quickly in the out-lap already. I don’t have time to do more laps in Q1 or Q2, so there are things that I need to speed up.”
Encouragingly for Alpine and Alonso, there’s reason to believe its improvement in single-lap pace was not only circuit-specific in Portugal. Developments introduced across the Imola and Algarve weekends, including modified floor, diffuser and front wing, have also contributed to these gains and should also prove effective at other tracks.
With a strong Saturday, Alonso will be on for a good result. But if he starts too far down the order, even his skills will struggle to deliver a good result given the traffic he will face.