Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has declared Aston Martin to be “a dark horse” following the team's impressive start to the new F1 season.
It may only have been practice, and the acid test will be in qualifying, but there was enough to suggest Aston Martin has made a considerable step forward compared to its petulant form of last season with the AMR22.
Alonso looked strong during the soft-tyre qualifying simulation and with long-run pace to at least suggest he will be on the front two rows for the grand prix in which he is likely to be a podium contender.
“Their car looks great,” said Horner. “They had some really impressive race runs (in testing) last week.
“Fernando, I don't know what he's taking but he's looking great on it. He looks on fire.
“So I think they could be a real surprise this year, a bit of a dark horse. It just shows that it is possible to take a jump from the midfield to potentially further up.
“Of course, we've only had a small snapshot. Let's see in qualifying, and then the first sample in the race on Sunday.”
Aston Martin form an incentive for McLaren
Aston Martin finished seventh in last year's constructors' championship, pipped to sixth position on countback by Alfa Romeo.
Fred Vasseur, then team principal with Alfa who has now joined Ferrari, feels his Scuderia could be threatened by a new rival.
“Clearly, they did a huge step forward compared to one year ago, if you have a look at Bahrain 2022,” analysed Vasseur.
“They were performant on the short stint, and the long – even a bit more impressive on the long – but now let's see on Saturday and Sunday.”
Aston Martin's surge forward and McLaren's apparent step backward has pushed the latter deep into the midfield squabble.
New McLaren team principal Andrea Stella feels Aston Martin serves as an indicator as to what can be achieved.
“This case shows these kinds of jumps are possible,” said Stella. “This is what we are on as well at McLaren, in terms of objectives.
“As I've said before, I'm encouraged by what I see in development, but ultimately, we need to capitalise and bring these developments to the track.
“So, for us, if anything it [Aston's form] is even more of an incentive to improve.”