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Fernando Alonso

Alonso stunned by qualifying ahead of Hamilton

Fernando Alonso was left pleasantly surprised after qualifying sixth for Saturday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Alonso Bahrain quali
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Fernando Alonso conceded that it was a "massive surprise" to qualify right amongst Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes, with Aston Martin having looked stronger than most expected.

After being the talk of the paddock at the Bahrain Grand Prix 12 months ago, Aston Martin entered the Bahrain International Circuit this weekend slightly concerned. The Silverstone-based team struggled for a one-lap pace during testing last week, leaving them worried ahead of qualifying.

At least for Alonso – Stroll qualified P12 – there was no reason to be "very cautious" ahead of the first qualifying of 2024, as he progressed into Q3 with relative ease. Alonso got right in the mix with the expected frontrunners and secured sixth on the grid for Saturday's race.

He will start ahead of Lewis Hamilton and both McLaren drivers, delighting the 42-year-old.

"Extremely, I think it was a nice surprise to find ourselves competitive," Alonso told media including RacingNews365. "After winter testing, we had some doubts in terms of one-lap pace.

"Free Practice was a different car this weekend, we felt more competitive. But normally we run maybe more engine or less fuel or whatever, and we find reality sometimes in qualifying. So we were very cautious into qualifying about our possibilities.

"And we found ourselves quite competitive in Q1 and Q2 and then in Q3. Now we are in the mix. We are together with a Ferrari, in front of Hamilton, together with the McLarens, so it's a massive surprise and extremely happy."

Alonso predicts 'extremely tight race'

With Alonso having qualified just over a tenth-of-a-second from the front row, he's in a prime position to score some good points. However, the Spaniard is remaining cautious ahead of the season-opener.

"Let's see, I think we had so-so runs in winter [testing]," added Alonso. "And also yesterday, we didn't look particularly good. But let's see tomorrow, it's going to be an extremely tight race.

"Racing in a group of cars is never an easy thing to manage in terms of tyres and things like that, so let's see how we deal with those problems. But I don't know, I think it's a very, very good start, a little bit unexpected, but we take it.

"We learn a lot of things last year as a team, how to be a contender for big things. If we want to compete with Ferrari and Mercedes and these teams, we need to raise the level on development throughout the season. [Last year] we started with a good base car, but we stuck there for many races.

"This year, we changed the concept of how to design the car and the upgrades and things like that. So to start out strong, it brings me a lot of optimism for the future."

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RESULTS 2024 F1 Chinese Grand Prix