Fernando Alonso has admitted he was beginning to wonder whether he ever would finish on the podium in Formula 1 again, as the former world champion ended a seven-year and 105-race wait for the 98th rostrum visit of his illustrious career.
The 40-year-old Spaniard earned driver of the day honours in F1’s inaugural Qatar GP for Alpine by impressively making what proved a challenging one-stop tyre strategy work to finish behind only title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, and ahead of Sergio Perez.
Having already impressed to qualify fifth on Saturday, Alonso was promoted two places after pre-race grid drops for Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas and then overtook Pierre Gasly in what he described as a “very important” move on the opening lap to run second in the early stages.
That typically-feisty early move laid the foundations for the next 56 laps.
Although Alonso is among the most successful drivers in the sport’s history with two world championships and 32 race wins, podiums had eluded him since his final year at Ferrari in 2014.
“This is the 98th podium of my career but I tell you, from the 97th to the 98th has been a very long time,” Alonso, who returned to F1 this year after two seasons away, told Sky Sports F1.
“It means a lot this trophy because you are up and down in your career, there are good moments, bad moments, but we show always determination.
The 104-race run without a podium
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“The dedication that you put into Formula 1, you have to dedicate all your life for this sport. Training, testing, simulator, racing and this passion and this love for the sport, this is exactly why we do this. For this kind of moment.”
Reflecting on his long-awaited podium return, Alonso said of the achievement: “Obviously a win is a win, so it cannot rank too highly, but it’s like ‘finally!’
“We were very close in a few occasions [this season] and I was just wondering if I would get one podium again in my career, or not.
“You never know what is going to happen next year so I’m happy that we took this one. Let’s see if we can keep the momentum now for next year.”
Alonso on the podium: Then and now
The double world champion set a new record for the longest gap between podiums on Sunday, having last finished on the rostrum – in second place – at the Hungarian GP in July 2014.
Alonso latest top-three appearance in F1 comes 18 years and seven months after his first in 2003, only Michael Schumacher (20 years and three months) has achieved a longer interval between maiden and final podiums in the sport.
‘I feel happy to feel the podium with them’
He took particular satisfaction from joining Hamilton and Verstappen, this year’s duelling title contenders, on the podium in a race that only two cars failed to finish.
“With all the respect for all the drivers, but to be up there with Max and Lewis means that the race was more or less normal,” added Alonso.
“There are a couple of podiums where something really big happened and then you ended up in that position. We deserved to be P3 today.”
Alpine, formerly known as Renault and still owned by the French manufacturer, have endured an inconsistent campaign but their car was strong at the Losail International Circuit all weekend.
Esteban Ocon finished fifth, giving the team a total of 25 points on a day AlphaTauri – their rivals for fifth in the Constructors’ Championship who they started the weekend tied on points with – failed to score.
Having returned to F1 with his eye firmly on next year’s huge rules overhaul designed to help level the playing field, Alonso is hopeful his first podium of 2021 can be the start of greater things to come next season.
“The year has been better and better with the races,” said Alonso, who came close to podiums in Hungary and Turkey.
“The plan is always to be ready in 2022 with the new regulations and hopefully being competitive there. Without 2021, I would not be ready into next season because of these kind of races.
“You need to understand the tyre strategy, the tyre management, the start, the level of risk that you put in different parts of the race. This has been a very good practice in 2021 so I feel ready now.
Asked about the prospect of competing nearer to Hamilton and Verstappen on a more regular basis in 2022, Alonso replied: “It would be fantastic to be fighting with them, They are both great champions and I feel happy to feel the podium with them.”