FP2: Fernando Alonso keeps Aston Martin hype train rolling with P1 in Bahrain

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, smiling. Bahrain, March 2023. Credit: Alamy
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, smiling. Bahrain, March 2023. Credit: Alamy

Aston Martin continued to suggest that they are the real deal in Bahrain as Fernando Alonso topped FP2 ahead of the Red Bulls.

Alonso’s 1:30.907 was enough to ensure that the two-time champ ended Friday on top at the opening race weekend of the year, with little to choose between the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez behind, though they were almost two-tenths down on Alonso’s benchmark.

It was not all positives for Aston Martin though, as Lance Stroll was showing the effects of his injuries which he fought back from to appear this weekend.

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While the opening practice session of the weekend took place in the glorious sunshine, now the lights had begun to take effect as conditions representative of qualifying and the race to come set in.

And it was of little surprise to see Stroll at the head of the queue that flooded onto the track at the sight of the green light. On top of missing the three-day test following a cycling accident, Stroll was also limited to only 17 laps in FP1 due to an “ignition issue”.

Alpine had shied away from the soft-tyre running until now, Esteban Ocon clocking a 1:32.4 on the C3 in the opening minutes, which was soon cleared by half a second, courtesy of Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari.

The respective team-mates joined the fray as Charles Leclerc found a tenth on Sainz, while Gasly got the early jump on Ocon by five-hundredths of a second.

Leclerc was soon complaining about “something strange” going on with the SF-23’s clutch as he asked Ferrari to investigate, though he was causing the complaints when he rather got in the way of Perez in the Red Bull.

Oscar Piastri was also forced to take evasive action at Turn 1 when his drag race against Yuki Tsunoda ended with the sight of Stroll moving slowly in the middle of the corner.

The opening soft-tyre run for Mercedes did not see Lewis Hamilton nor George Russell clear the Alpine pair, while Verstappen found the RB19 to be “jumping” around more than what he experienced in testing.

Hamilton was soon able to jump ahead of the Alpines, but returned to the pits with a deficit of four-tenths to the Ferraris to address nonetheless.

Aston Martin had opted against a soft-tyre run in that initial flurry, but with the clock having ticked just beyond 20 minutes gone in the session, Stroll returned to the track with a shiny set of C3s bolted on.

And he instantly delivered a warning shot to Ferrari, purple in all three sectors to go P1 with a 1:31.450, while Valtteri Bottas slotted the Alfa Romeo into P2, three-tenths behind.

Piastri meanwhile was having further dramas as AlphaTauri released Nyck de Vries into his path in the pit lane. Thankfully a collision was avoided.

Out on the track the leaderboard was shifting around, Nico Hulkenberg and Leclerc both getting ahead of Stroll, while Alonso, now on the softer rubber, did so too with greater conviction as he set a 1:30.907. Perez used the C3 to move into P2, 0.171s shy of Alonso.

Verstappen in the other Red Bull was next up to take a shot at Alonso, falling 0.169s short. So far, so good for Aston Martin. That was not exactly the case over at Mercedes, as Russell had a “big wobble” between turns six and seven as he asked for a check of the floor on that W14.

Now into the second-half of the session, Sainz was back out on the circuit with the C3s, but was into a race simulation, rather than having another shot at a push lap like his rivals had done.

Perez was having trouble seeing his times on the steering wheel, “display 12, position one,” Red Bull were telling the increasingly frustrated Mexican racer.

Stroll though was having more pressing issues, telling Aston Martin “I can’t with my hands” as they asked him to compromise Turn 1 for a better line through Turn 2. Onboard footage showed Stroll taking his left hand off the wheel and almost pushing it as he went through Turn 1. Something to monitor ahead of qualifying for sure.

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P6 nonetheless represented a strong session for the Canadian, with Aston Martin looking very promising indeed as Alonso ended the second hour of practice on top.

FP2 times

1 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin 1:30.907
2 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.169
3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.171
4 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.460
5 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +0.469
6 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.543
7 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.568
8 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.636
9 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.663
10 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +0.679
11 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.701
12 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.886
13 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.975
14 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +1.049
15 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.117
16 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.203
17 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.533
18 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.618
19 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.698
20 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.842

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