“We had a driver where you would have thought it was his first season (in F1),” said team principal Mike Krack concerning a man who undoubtedly belied his 42 years of age.
Certain characteristics bore the hallmark of a rookie as Alonso was full of enthusiasm, passion, and drive. On this occasion, however, it was supported by an experienced professional with 19 seasons behind him.
If you recall, Alonso was buoyant from the moment he stepped foot inside the Aston Martin garage in the test at the end of the 2022 season in Abu Dhabi. It was a smile that rarely left him throughout a captivating 2023.
Driving a car again worthy of his talent, given his ill-fated spells at McLaren – an era that heralded retirement from F1 – and then with Alpine on his return after two years out during which time he rediscovered his love of driving by competing in other categories, Alonso rolled back the years over the first third of last season.
In a car, the AMR23, that surprised all observers when it was launched given its pace and performance, the two-time F1 champion delivered drives that threatened eventual runaway title-winner Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team.
Alonso scored six podiums in the first eight races. Many feel that but for a strategic error from Aston Martin in Monaco, he would have ended a winless drought that now stretches back almost 11 years, and an astonishing 176 grands prix going into what will be his as equally as remarkable 20th season in F1.
Naturally reinvigorated by a car that came flying out of the blocks, Alonso was the icing on the cake for Aston Martin after two years with Sebastian Vettel at the wheel, albeit at a time when the team was still building its platform towards fulfilling owner Lawrence Stroll's five-year plan in becoming true title contenders.
Krack feels that comparing Vettel to Alonso would be unfair given where they were at in their careers.
“Sebastian was obviously at the end of his,” said Krack. “He had made it his choice that he was going to stop. For Fernando, it was a different situation. He saw it as another challenge.”
It was a challenge Alonso was determined to embrace. Aston Martin finished seventh in the constructors' championship in 2022, Vettel's final year, arguably disappointing given the resources at the team's disposal.
Alonso saw the bigger picture, believing he was not jumping out of the frying pan into the fire in leaving the manufacturer-backed Alpine for a mid-table rival.
Outlining that Alonso did not simply join Aston Martin for the pay cheque, Krack said: “A lot of drivers go to smaller teams, and they try to take what they can through to the end of their career.
“This is not what we have seen with Fernando. Actually, it's completely the opposite.
“We had a driver where you would have thought it was his first season. He was full of energy, not only driving us on but also driving himself on.
“He really led by example, being the first in the office. You arrive in the morning, and he is sitting there. He would (jokingly) say, ‘Good afternoon guys'.
“This leading by example has affected the team, pushed the team, and we have a much better team now than 12 months ago.
“Obviously, this is also credit to others, not only to Fernando, but this has made us improve much, much more than we would have if he was not here.”
Unfortunately for Aston Martin, it was unable to maintain the dizzying heights reached in those early grands prix.
Its performance tailed off, due to the team opting for an “aggressive development philosophy”, according to technical director Dan Fallows, that was “conceptually quite different from what we had before”.
Alonso still delivered podium finishes in the Netherlands and São Paulo, allowing him to finish fourth in the drivers' standings, his best performance since 2013.
What was arguably one of Alonso's most impressive traits throughout the season was that in qualifying, in particular, he was truly exemplary, with arguably only Verstappen maintaining such a high level.
It was not until the 18th race of the season in Austin, when Aston Martin was at the height of its experimentation with the car, that Alonso failed to make it into Q3. It was a similar story at the following race in Mexico City before a recovery for the final three races.
Krack readily concedes that having a driver who consistently leaves nothing on the table is a revelation, and ensures there is no need within the team to second guess what the car is capable of.
“It is something we are aware of,” said Krack. “When you have this high level of driving, and this high level of motivation and push, and when you see the record he had in quali three, always bringing the car there, you do not have these questions – ‘Can the car go faster?'
“It's very good for the team, and it builds also a lot of trust from the team to the driver and vice versa, and the drivers feel that.
“Drivers are very, very sensitive sensors. They can feel the smallest vibrations in the team.
“I think Fernando feels very comfortable in this team because he feels this trust we have, and nobody's ever doubting when he does something, and that works both ways.”
There was a point in the season when Alonso's team-mate, Lance Stroll, seemingly lost his way, becoming so disenchanted with events at one stage in Qatar that he was captured pushing trainer Henry Howe out of the way as he exited at the back of the garage.
With Alonso consistently at the top of his game, Krack concedes it is “really not easy” to be the Spaniard's team-mate.
He feels, however, there is no question Stroll has “learned a huge amount from Fernando” in terms of “how to manage difficult situations”.
“You always look at what your team-mate is doing, how he's behaving, how he's handling things,” said Krack.
“But we have all learned a great deal – how we have to go on with things, to stick to what we know, and not trying to invent things, but sticking to our data, to the analysis, and moving on from there.
“And they are great team-mates. They talk a lot – how to improve here, how to improve there, how do you drive here, how do you drive there.
“This is complimentary to all the driving analysis that we also do, so I think they have really helped each other, and again, as a team, with our drivers, we are much much stronger now than we were 12 months ago.”
That is to the obvious benefit of an Aston Martin team which is due to launch its challenger for this season, the AMR24, on February 12 ahead of pre-season testing in Bahrain on February 21-23.