Fernando Alonso enlivened a first race of the Formula 1 season that was dominated by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in a fashion that suggested the destiny of this year’s World Championship might already be known.

Alonso produced a starring drive, featuring two quite superb overtaking moves, to fight back from seventh in the early stages to take the final podium place behind Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez.

The remarkable rise to the front of Alonso and his Aston Martin team was the story of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s superiority was expected by most – even if the extent of it left his title rival of last year, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, in a downcast mood. And while Aston Martin had looked impressive in pre-season testing, even Alonso did not expect them to be as good as they turned out to be.

Before the cars turned a wheel on the race weekend, Alonso told this writer over coffee last Thursday morning that he was thinking about qualifying in the lower reaches of the top 10 and perhaps finishing in the top five or six. 

But his was probably the second fastest car in the field at Sakhir on Sunday, and the delicious moves he pulled on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari in the closing stages sparked into life a race that, at the front, had long since become soporific.

« We didn’t expect to be that competitive, » Alonso said. « The aim in 2023 was getting in the mix in the midfield, leading that midfield and getting close to the top three teams. But even a podium was maybe not on the radar. 

« And we found ourselves second-best car today in Bahrain, or the whole weekend, just behind Red Bull. So this is a little bit of a surprise. »

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