MONACO (AP) — Ten years after last winning a Formula One race, Fernando Alonso fancies his chances of victory in the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday.
The 41-year-old Spanish driver has four third-place finishes in five races with Aston Martin this season.
“I will attack more than any other weekend,” the two-time F1 champion said. ”I come here thinking I will try to win.”
While defending champion Max Verstappen leads the championship for Red Bull, it's Alonso's form that has captured the imagination of fans.
“If I tell you that I don’t come here thinking that I can win the race, I would lie to you,” said Alonso, who has 32 career F1 wins and 102 podium finishes. "Because this is a one-off opportunity."
The razor-thin street circuit, where drivers often brush close to the walls, suits Alonso's high-risk and slick driving style.
“You need to gain the confidence in the free practice, get closer and closer to the walls," he said.
Alonso was 31 when he last won in F1, at his home race in Spain in 2013 while driving for Ferrari. He's won in Monaco twice but not since 2007, when he was Lewis Hamilton's teammate at McLaren and clinched victory from pole position.
Securing the pole is often crucial in Monaco because the sinewy circuit is very difficult to overtake on.
But while Red Bull is clearly the fastest car again — Verstappen or teammate Sergio Perez have won every race — reliability issues and crashes are not uncommon in Monaco.
“If one of those things happens on a Sunday, automatically you close the gap massively and it starts to be more interesting," Alonso said. "The championship is long, we will not give up.”
Alonso has not felt this good in a long time.
“It is just phenomenal what (Aston Martin) has done, the car is so enjoyable to drive. So fast.”
Alonso said the last time he felt so good in a F1 car was with Ferrari. In 2010, he was the championship runner-up to then-Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel by four points, and in 2012 he finished second to Vettel by three points.
Verstappen is challenging himself to beat his own F1 record of 15 wins in a season from last year.
“I want to win more than 15 races,” the Dutch driver said. “Every year you try to do a little bit better. You just keep that pressure on yourself. It's nice.”
Verstappen has 38 career wins.
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc literally knows Monaco better than any other driver, but he still hasn't won a race in the principality.
Leclerc has taken the pole position the last two years. But in 2021 he crashed on his final qualifying lap and mechanics were unable to repair his car in time for the race. Last year, one of many botched team strategy calls in a chaotic season for Ferrari deprived him of victory. He dropped to fourth place and Perez won for Red Bull.
Four years ago, Leclerc retired from the race in his first season with Ferrari. In 2020, it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When you see (my) record it has not always been so easy on race day," Leclerc said. "I hope we can reproduce a good performance this Saturday with a better Sunday this time.”
Leclerc has won five F1 races but is desperate to win in Monaco more than anywhere else, for very personal reasons.
He is from Monaco and grew up in an apartment perched over the start-finish line. He's also friends with Prince Albert, whose hilltop palace overlooks the proceedings.
"It is always very special for me because those are the streets where I’ve grown up," Leclerc said. "I know this city by heart, wherever I go on the track."
As a kid, Leclerc used to love watching the red Ferrari cars flashing by underneath his home — and now it's others who enjoy watching him.
“I’ve got some friends living right over the track," said Leclerc, who has one third-place finish this season, “and (they) can see the race from their apartments.”
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. topped the first practice from Alonso and Hamilton, whose upgraded Mercedes featured new front suspension, sidepods and floor.
Verstappen placed sixth and struggled with the car's rear.
Verstappen led the second practice from Leclerc and Sainz, who hit the wall near the swimming pool area with about 20 minutes left to bring out a red flag.
Alonso sounded sarcastic when George Russell's Mercedes cut the chicane and passed him during the second session.
“Are we allowed to overtake people off track?” Alonso asked on team radio. He was fourth in P2.
A red flag ended P1 a few minutes early when Williams driver Alex Albon crashed through Sainte-Devote corner.
There is a third practice on Saturday ahead of qualifying.
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