How Alonso and Alpine blew AlphaTauri away in Qatar


Fernando Alonso put in a brilliant performance at the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix to take a surprise podium. We delve into how the Spaniard coaxed his car to third

Alonso graph header

Data by Ekagra Gupta, edited by Jake Williams-Smith

It was seven years in the making but Fernando Alonso’s podium in Qatar was a well-deserved reward for the two-time champion.

Promoted to third on the grid by virtue of grid penalties for Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen, Alonso ran his race perfectly to secure his first rostrum visit since Hungary 2014.

Working with data visualisation specialist Project F1, we’ve analysed how he did it: why Alonso’s Alpine outpaced an AlphaTauri that started on the front row of the grid, his supreme tyre management, and his crucial overtake at the start.

By looking at the pace of his closest rivals throughout the race, we can also identify a potential error by Red Bull that may have cost Sergio Perez a podium place.


This chart looks at the total race time of each driver compared to a baseline of 90.5sec/lap for the length of the race. Based on the average pace of the charted drivers, the relative slopes of the lines indicate whether the driver is going faster/slower compared to the baseline.

Pierre Gasly had set a time good enough for P4 on the grid which became a front-row start after the Bottas and Verstappen penalties, but the race slipped from the Faenza team’s grasp under the Losail floodlights.

Both Gasly and Alonso drivers started on the same soft compound tyres for the race but some questionable strategy for one and brilliant driving by the other turned the tables.

Alonso made the most of the red-walled Pirellis at the start. Using the slipstream from Gasly ahead to mount a challenge for second, he braved it around the outside to claim the high ground out of T2 and second position with it.

Now in clear air as Lewis Hamilton motored off ahead, Alonso made the most of the advantage while AlphaTauri was now set to suffer.

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Stuck behind the Spaniard, Gasly was pushing the tyres more than ideally necessary and it prompted the decision from the team to switch his strategy to a two-stop race early on.

Red Bull was also moved into the two-stopper with Perez as it tried to manoeuvre the strategy pieces to secure a podium from 11th on the grid.

Alpine meanwhile stuck to its guns, stretching the first stint to lap 19 versus Gasly’s very early switch on lap 13. Despite the one-stop pace, Alonso’s lap time continued to decrease.

AlphaTauri also opted to stop Yuki Tsunoda very early. In fact, the Japanese driver was the first driver to stop on lap 9 for fresh mediums, such was the team’s struggles to work the soft tyres effectively during the first stint.

Esteban Ocon mirrored his team-mate’s strategy and stopped one lap later than Alonso on lap 24, both swapping to the hard tyre.

Through the second stint, both Alpine drivers displayed pace comfortably faster than either AlphaTauri driver could manage as shown in the lines marking Gasly and Tsunoda on the graph below fall away.

Also clear below is how Ocon’s early pace in the second stint was a shade off of Gasly, but only briefly. Ocon steadily homed in on his P5 finish while Gasly’s pace faded once more.


This chart shows the lap times trend race pace calculated by fitting a polynomial regression to the lap times. This helps by removing slow lap times based on in and out laps for pitstops as well as those affected by safety cars or prolonged yellow flags.

Instantly evident is AlphaTauri’s weaker race pace that hurt its strategy while both Ocon and Alonso made hay and were able to extend the first stint.

Both Alpines took much better care of the tyres, placing their rubber under less stress which paid most dividends at the end of the first phase of the race.

With Alpine able to extend to beyond lap 20, it opened up the possibility to run to the one-stop window which it took full advantage of.

Gasly’s earlier stop provided him with a pace advantage for just a handful of laps over Alpine yet once again, AlphaTauri’s chewing through the tyres would cost it in the second stints.

Following the pit stops, Alonso re-established Alpine’s performance advantage and comfortably gapped the lead AlphaTauri driver.

The Italian team’s performance did improve as the track rubbered in and fuel burned off in the middle phase of the race but by that point, it was too late and Alpine held the advantage.

But what of the others?

Looking at the above graphs, Alonso’s speed in the initial phase of the race was too great for Lando Norris to keep up with the Alpine.

Despite the McLaren driver’s thoughts on the matter post-race, his pace fell away prior to the puncture derailing his night as evidenced above. Alonso looked to have that threat covered off.

But what about Perez? The Red Bull driver made a second stop on lap 41 following Bottas’s blowout and was forced to overtake Ocon.

He was fortunate to have Norris fall out of contention with a puncture of his own but would he have made it to Alonso before the end?

Perez’s speed is evident above. Even as he carved through the field to recover from the lower end of the top 10, he was making good time on those ahead.

Bottas was the other top driver to find himself embedded back in the pack but couldn’t cut through the traffic in the same way, underlining how well Perez was making gains.

The trend pace for the Red Bull driver indicates he may well have been able to extend his first stint and gain improved track position when he filtered out following the stop.

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Unfortunately for him, the second phase of the race wasn’t quite as strong and he was forced to fight through traffic again following a second stop.

That hampered his pace and shot at a podium but even after clearing the last of the traffic between himself and Alonso, a late virtual safety car to recover the Williams of Nicholas Latifi all but ended his hopes.

It would have been close, but Perez looked as though he finally had the pace right at the end. Another few laps and Alpine might have been forced to accept fourth and fifth.

Fortunately for the Enstone/Viry connection, it was an eventuality that never played out.

The team took a crucial 25 points in the fight for fifth in the constructors’ standings.

It will be a very tall order for AlphaTauri to overturn that deficit in the final two rounds of the season.

Project F1 turns data into graphics that uncover race pace and strategy 
See more analysis at @_ProjectF1 on Twitter or @_ProjectF1 on Instagram