Canadian Grand Prix: Fernando Alonso hopes to lead race with ‘maximum attack’ start

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Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso said his aim was to lead Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix after taking his first front-row start for 10 years.

The 40-year-old qualified second behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull in the wet in Montreal for his best qualifying result since taking pole in Germany in 2012.

He said: “The goal is to lead the race in lap one. Turn One, maximum attack.

“And then after that, they can go and they can fight – but it will be nice, sweet to lead the race.”

Championship leader Verstappen, who starts the race as strong favourite, said he was wary of the Alpine driver’s reputation as a strong starter. Alonso’s standard-setting race-craft usually leads to him making up positions at the start of a race.

“Fernando is getting a little bit old, but he’s still very fast,” Verstappen said. “So I know he starts very well, you know, so I have to be ready.”

The two have developed a strong mutual respect since Alonso returned to F1 last season after two years away.

Verstappen added: “To be on the front row together with Fernando; I used to look at F1 as a little kid, seeing Fernando being up there and winning his races and championships and putting it on pole. So to be sharing the front row is a nice thing.”

Alonso, a two-time world champion with 32 victories who is regarded as one of the greatest F1 drivers in history, played down the importance of returning to the front of the grid for the first time in a decade.

“I mean, it doesn’t mean much,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of. Sometimes I do a better job, sometimes not so good and I try to improve.

“I’ve been working a lot in the last two years but yeah, I mean, it feels good, but it doesn’t mean anything. The race is tomorrow so we need to do a good race.”

Alonso, who has the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz right behind him in third place, said he was under no illusions that he would be able to battle for victory, saying that the top two teams were “in a different league”.

And he also fears ultimately losing out to the other cars from the big teams, even though Sergio Perez starts 13th in his Red Bull after a crash in qualifying and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Verstappen’s main title rival, is 19th as a result of a grid penalty for using too many engine parts.

And Lewis Hamilton scored his best qualifying result of the year to be fourth for Mercedes, another car that has been stronger than the Alpine for most of the year.

“Our realistic position is not in the top five so let’s try to have a clean race, execute a good strategy, good tyre management and score as many points as possible but to think about winning is completely unrealistic,” Alonso said.

The Spaniard has been competitive all weekend, setting fifth fastest time in the dry in Friday practice.

The first race in Canada since 2019 has been his and Alpine’s strongest weekend since he looked on course for a top-four grid slot in Australia in the third race of the season only for the car to develop a technical problem in qualifying and cause Alonso to crash.

He said: “The car was good straight away. We didn’t make huge set-up changes. We didn’t experiment too much because the car felt good from the first laps in first practice so that was a help to build the confidence.

“It’s also a circuit that I think you need some rhythm into it. You use a lot of kerb riding here and it’s quite bumpy. There are a few things that, you know, are there for many, many years.

“And I guess for half of the grid it’s either the first time they come here or the second time because after the pandemic it was not many races hosted here in Canada.

“I’ve been racing here 16 or 17 years so, as I always said, age and experience is always a help, it’s never a downside.”

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