Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer believes that Fernando Alonso could have fought amongst the Ferrari and Red Bull cars on race day in Australia had he not suffered his qualifying crash.
The two-time World Champion was on his quickest lap of the weekend during Q3 when he experienced a transmission problem that saw him hit the barriers at Turn 11.
As a result, Alonso was forced to start Sunday's Grand Prix from 10th on the grid, with the team needing to think outside of the box in regards to his race strategy.
The plan did not pay off, though, due to a badly-timed Safety Car leaving the driver well down the order. He ended the race down in 17th.
How good was Alonso's Q3 lap?
The sector times from Alonso's incomplete Q3 lap left some wondering whether the Spaniard could have put himself on provisional pole position.
Alonso completed the track's first two sectors in a time of 44.608 seconds, enough to, at that stage, put him on course to place P2 behind Verstappen, whose time came in at 44.544 seconds.
But, with Verstappen having seemingly struggled with the slow-speed corners of Albert Park's final sector all weekend, Alonso would only have needed to stay within a tenth of the Ferrari cars through sector three to remain in with a chance of locking in provisional pole.
This left Szafnauer questioning what could have been on Sunday.
"Had we qualified where we could have qualified, it would have been a totally different race for Fernando," the Team Principal told media, including RacingNews365.com, after the Grand Prix.
Why Alonso's race would have been so different
As a result of his qualifying crash, Alpine opted to switch Alonso onto an alternative strategy that they hoped would allow him to push the car to its full potential in clean air - albeit on Hard tyres - once his rivals ahead had pitted.
Had he qualified inside the top four, however, Alonso would have started on the Medium tyres, the team have confirmed.
"He wouldn't have been caught out by the Safety Car," Szafnauer continued. "He would have had a good chance to fight with the top four guys.
"Unfortunately, because he was starting in 10th with a quick car underneath him, the strategy was to get him on the Hard [tyres] early, so when the field opened up as they [Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes] pit[ted], the pace of the car was going to open up so that he could pit and fight with them."
Szafnauer - who left the Aston Martin team at the end of the 2021 season - also jokingly raised questions about the timing of the Safety Car coming out.
"I don't know who crashed on purpose to bring the Safety Car out," he quipped.
"They did it just at the wrong time for us and probably the right time for them. Who was it that? [Sebastian] Vettel? He probably tried to do it because I'm here."
Viewed by others:
Alpine's pace in Australia is a warning to rivals
Alpine's confidence that Alonso would have had the pace to fight amongst the Red Bull and Ferrari cars will come as a warning to Mercedes as their quest for performance continues.
With the budget cap in place, the Silver Arrows are left unable to spend their way back to the front and must instead be more strategic with their upgrade packages, all while a competitive Alpine potentially become another rival.
"I think the budget cap definitely helps because, in the past, they would have the money to throw at it, and the resource to throw at it – and I think rightfully so," Szafnauer added.
"We think we've made a big step forward on power unit, and we're within 10 horsepower of the best."
F1 Podcast: Can fast but fragile Red Bull respond to Leclerc's charge?
RacingNews365.com F1 journalists Dieter Rencken, Mike Seymour and Thomas Maher look back over the Australian Grand Prix, where Ferrari's Charles Leclerc triumphed and Red Bull's Max Verstappen retired.