The two-time world champion set the third-fastest time in qualifying, 0.465 seconds off Perez’s ultimate pace, but will move up to first place on the grid as Charles Leclerc will pick up at least 10 grid spots for adopting a new control electronics. .
Despite a strong qualifying result, the consensus is that Aston Martin is much stronger in the race, and Alonso explained that the general long-term pace and a slight touch with the tires will give more performance on Sunday.
Either way, Alonso doesn’t expect to face Perez for victory at the Jeddah Corniche circuit, admitting the Red Bull team are ‘in a different league’ compared to the rest of the field.
Instead, he thinks Aston Martin will have to focus on beating the cars behind them, and suggests the trio of Ferrari, Mercedes and Alpine could all threaten the British team’s podium hopes.
“I don’t know [if we can beat Perez] – I think we’re not in that position yet,” Alonso said.
“In pure pace, I think Red Bull is in another league and I think we need to focus more on the teams behind. So Ferrari will be very strong, Mercedes is strong, Alpine too – they are fast here.
“I think our race is right behind us. We saw today that Max was probably in his league today in qualifying and he couldn’t finish qualifying with a mechanical issue.
“Even though we focus on our rear-view mirrors and try to keep people behind, if something happens in front, we will try to seize the opportunity.
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin F1 Team
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
“I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but if we see the pace in free practice and in Bahrain, we have to be honest with ourselves and know that Red Bull is a bit ahead of everyone.
“It’s not the objective tomorrow, to fight for victory with Checo. But, as I said before, Formula 1 is not exact mathematics, you know, anything can happen and today , Verstappen was P15. These things happen sometimes.”
Alonso expects rivals Aston Martin to create a close race on Sunday, with small gaps between them throughout their variable long runs in practice sessions.
Although stressing that good preparation was needed to beat them, and that he felt the AMR23’s tire management was already solid, Alonso added that luck would be just as much a factor.
“It will be a very tight race, I expect, and I think it will be defined by small details: one will be the start, the other will be the tire management,” he said. “The other will be strategy and probably the last will be luck.
“Because we saw even last year with Checo, you know, how much luck and a safety car can play a big role here.
“We have to nail all those points – I think as a team we are ready to take care of whatever is in our hands.
“The car seems to perform well on the long stints, looks very easy on the tyres. So yeah, let’s try to maximize our strengths and hopefully get lucky.”