The prospect of Fernando Alonso ending a decade-long wait for his 33rd Formula One win in front of tens of thousands of fans at his home race proved too good to be true on Sunday.
Alonso turned in his worst performance of the season when the two-time former world champion finished the Spanish Grand Prix in seventh place, one spot behind Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll.
Spanish fans had packed the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya hoping to witness their idol finally return to the top of the podium. The last time Alonso won, he did so right here on the same track back in 2013 with Ferrari when he claimed victory No. 32. He also won the Spanish GP in 2006 with Renault.
But the Spanish driver was unable to recover from a mistake in Saturday’s qualifying when he drove his car into the gravel and damaged its floor. He could do no better than an eighth-place start and only managed to move up one spot through 66 laps.
Alonso was passed by George Russell in his Mercedes and Sergio Pérez in his Red Bull, even if he did manage to keep well ahead of a struggling Charles Leclerc of Ferrari.
“We didn’t have the pace of other race days,” Alonso said. “In reality, it all started with qualifying on Saturday, which was our weak point. Mercedes has taken a step forward and was too much for us. But I am not worried, we will (try to) beat them in Canada.”
Fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz also had a bad day. He had started a season-best second after putting his Ferrari in good position in qualifying. But even though he had faster tires from the start than polesitter Max Verstappen, the defending champion fended off his challenge to the first turn. Once clear of Sainz, Verstappen never looked back and cruised to victory. Sainz finished fifth.
Alonso is third in the points standings at 71 points behind Verstappen and 18 points behind the other Red Bull driver, Sergio Pérez, in second.
Even though they rooted for Sainz, this was really about Alonso for the Spanish faithful. He was the driver who thrilled Spain by winning titles in 2005 and 2006 with Renault. That earned him a place in Spain’s sporting pantheon alongside Rafael Nadal, cycling great Miguel Induráin, and its top football players.
The track’s stands and grassy areas were speckled with the emerald green shirts and caps of Alonso’s new Aston Martin team. Before the race a huge flag of Alonso was draped over a large part of one of the stands.
After a stint away from F1 and some middling cars with other teams, Alonso has finally found a car to match his talents at a revamped Aston Martin in what has been an impressive season so far.
The 41-year-old Alonso had tried before the race to be realistic about his chances, given the dominance of Red Bull and the field of competitive cars fighting to be second best. Even so, he admitted that he could only embrace the enthusiasm he has unleashed among followers who likely never thought they could see him win again. Expectations were even higher after Alonso took second last weekend at Monaco.
The only moment, however, for his fans to really relish was when Alonso swept past former Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon late in the race.
Alonso then waved to the fans as he drove down the final straight to the checkered flag.
His next attempt at win No. 33 will come in two weeks at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.
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