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Mar.18 – Fernando Alonso « is in his third spring » as a Formula 1 driver, according to top Red Bull official Helmut Marko.
Indeed, as both Mercedes and Ferrari falter at the start of 2023 with their respective new cars, it is 41-year-old Alonso and the suddenly-competitive Aston Martin that appears to be challenging the hardest so far in Jeddah.
« Ferrari has something in reserve with its engine, » Marko told Austrian broadcaster ORF in Saudi Arabia.
Ferrari’s sporting director Laurent Mekies appeared to confirm that the Maranello team is taking a cautious approach after the reliability troubles of Bahrain.
« At the moment it is best for us to take 100 percent precautions, » he said.
« We took a precautionary measure here so that we could drive as much as possible. »
When contemplating the Jeddah pecking order, Marko said: « Behind us, or at least it looks like it, will be an exciting battle at least between the Alpine and Fernando Alonso, and Ferrari to some extent. »
But even the 79-year-old isn’t even ruling out a surprise push for victory by Alonso.
« Alonso is in his third spring, » he said, referring to Alonso’s initial two titles with Renault, the McLaren-Ferrari-McLaren era that ended in sabbatical, and now the Spaniard’s climb back up the rankings with Alpine and Aston Martin.
« You always have to factor him in, » Marko insisted. « The overtaking against Hamilton in Bahrain was unbelievable.
« I trust him to make Aston Martin number two in Formula 1. »
What is very obvious, however, is that no challenger can currently reckon with the supremacy of Red Bull’s back-to-back world champion Max Verstappen.
« Actually, only Max is relatively a long way ahead, » Marko said. « Perez is just ahead of Alonso. You can see that Max makes the big difference in himself. »
And that is despite the fact that Verstappen, 25, arrived to Jeddah late after apparently suffering from a stomach bug.
« Max has had a relatively bad flu, » Marko said. « It’s actually only the first time I’ve seen him sweat this season. »
However, the Dutchman may not be sweating too much by late afternoon on Sunday.
« We don’t believe that Ferrari and Mercedes will get their problems under control so quickly, » Marko told Kleine Zeitung newspaper.
« We therefore see Aston Martin as the first pursuer. I don’t think Mercedes will be competitive before the summer, » said Marko.
And according to Alonso, no team can « realistically » target victories at present except for Red Bull.
« I don’t think it’s possible at the moment, » he said. « Red Bull is too strong.
« Ferrari, Mercedes, us, realistically we can’t think of a win at the moment. We should wait a few more races and then correct our weak points under high pressure.
« But of course anything can happen when you are near the front. A bad pitstop, a safety car at a good time or whatever. Then anything would be possible, » Alonso added.
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