That brilliant opening lap, and the stern defence of his positions after that as he nursed his rubber, were the clear highlight from Saturday’s action.
But Alpine has revealed how its pitwall crew turned to face its strategist and wonder if they were geniuses or chumps when its tyre choice was first revealed.
F1 teams had a completely free selection of tyre compound for Saturday’s inaugural sprint qualifying race, with the medium being the most obvious route because of its durability.
However, Alpine felt that the soft would be a better bet. It was confident, after putting some miles on the compound in final practice, that it would deliver an advantage at the start and that its degradation could be managed enough to get through the 17 laps.
It was the only team therefore to commit both its drivers to the soft, rather than the safer bet of the medium.
But, when the tyre blankets came off on the grid to reveal what everyone else had chosen, it was shocked that so few of its rivals had agreed with its choice.
With only four cars in total taking the soft – the two Alpines, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen – it knew it was in the minority.
Alpine’s F1 executive director Marcin Budkowski says it was right then that those who sit on the pitwall all turned to look at the strategist.
“There’s this moment where all the teams remove the blankets on the grid, so we were sat on the pitwall and you see everybody’s tyre,” said Budkowski.
“We thought more people would do the soft. But there was us, Valtteri and Kimi on the soft, and there was not a lot else!
“It was a team call at the end, but the strategists were quite adamant that they thought it was the right thing.
“There are six of us at the pitwall, and five of us turn to Matthieu [Dubois], our chief strategist, who looked at us and he looked a little bit like: ‘OK, either we just got this right, or we got this spectacularly wrong, and we’re going to find out!’
“And you know, they got it right and hats off to them!”
Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
The soft proved to be an inspired choice, with Alonso brilliantly capitalising on the extra grip offered by the tyre to surge from 11th on the grid up to fifth on the first lap.
Although the ultimate pace of the Alpine, allied to the increased degradation of the soft, meant Alonso could not hold off McLaren duo Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, his seventh-placed finish at the flag was still a great result.
Budkowski was full of praise for how Alonso had approached that opening lap and proved to be the star of the sprint race.
“I wasn’t here in 2005-2006, I was at Ferrari, but a few people said that’s the starts that Fernando used to do in these times,” he explained.
“And I think that’s part of him just being clever and a bit of a fox of exploiting every opportunity on track. We know his racecraft is second to none, he is exceptional in that.
“And it could be a bit of experience, as well. I mean, we’ve seen Fernando doing well, Seb [Vettel] doing well, and Kimi did well. So maybe there’s a bit of people who have this kind of nose for these kind of opportunities.
“It’s something different. A different format, different circumstances, and maybe some people were kind of a bit wary of attacking. We’ve seen in Baku with Fernando, when he smells blood he just goes for every possible gap and every opportunity.”