LONDON: Fernando Alonso has made some wrong moves in a Formula One career that should have delivered more than two titles but joining Aston Martin is looking like a good one.
The 41-year-old Spaniard moved to the Silverstone-based team from Renault-owned Alpine at the end of last season after signing a multi-year deal as a replacement for retiring Sebastian Vettel.
The money was substantial, and the prospect of extending his career by two more years highly attractive, but there were doubts he was heading to a better seat than the one he had vacated at a works team.
The impression from pre-season testing in Bahrain, however, was that Aston Martin are on the rise.
It is early days, and the picture only an outline without so much as a racing lap, but the team that finished seventh last season compared to Alpine’s fourth could be best of the rest behind the big three.
They may even be level on performance with Mercedes, third last season and their engine provider.
“I think they’ve made a big step,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, whose former aerodynamics chief engineer Dan Fallows joined Aston Martin as technical director last April, told F1 television.
“It looks like their concept of car has moved them forward and they look like they’re not too far away. Fernando in particular looks very competitive.”
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen agreed: “I think Aston Martin look fast,” said the Dane.
“They seem to constantly be doing good long runs and when they try to put in a fast time, they seem to do it as well.”
For Alonso fans, ‘El Plan’ – the project with Alpine – has morphed on social media into ‘Mission 33’: to add to his tally of 32 career victories a decade on from his last with Ferrari in 2013.
The driver, whose resume includes two tough stints at McLaren in 2007 and 2015-18 as well as five often frustrating years at Ferrari, is not ruling that out eventually and nor are those who know him well.
Pat Symonds, the former technical director who was at Renault when Alonso won his championships in 2005 and 2006, said Aston Martin had put together an impressive group.
Eric Blandin joined from then-champions Mercedes last year as aero head and Luca Furbatto from Sauber/Alfa Romeo as engineering director.
The team are also moving into a new factory and have a state-of-art wind tunnel due to come on stream next year.
“When Fernando said ‘Right, I’m going to Aston Martin’ he was looking at the future,” Symonds told Sky Sports television.
“I think Dan Fallows is a very, very competent guy. I think we’re going to start seeing them moving up a bit.”
Fallows worked at Red Bull with Adrian Newey, winner of multiple championships with three different teams and an inspirational arch-boffin regarded as the greatest of modern designers.
Last year’s updated Aston was seen by some as a ‘Green Red Bull’ and the same design philosophy is clear in the 2023 version.
Alonso was second fastest to Red Bull’s double world champion Max Verstappen on day one of testing and third fastest, with 130 laps on the board, on day two.
The Spaniard, whose Canadian team mate Lance Stroll remains doubtful for the opening race due to a cycling accident, said it was so far so good but warned it was only testing.
“We do not know what everyone else is doing so there are still many questions to answer,” he added.