Fernando Alonso “is in his third spring” as a Formula 1 driver, according to top Red Bull official Fernando Alonso.
Indeed, as both Mercedes and Ferrari falter at the start of 2023 with their respective new cars, it is 41-year-old Alonso and the suddenly-competitive Aston Martin that appears to be challenging the hardest so far in Jeddah.
“Ferrari has something in reserve with its engine,” Marko told Austrian broadcaster ORF in Saudi Arabia.
Ferrari’s sporting director Laurent Mekies appeared to confirm that the Maranello team is taking a cautious approach after the reliability troubles of Bahrain.
“At the moment it is best for us to take 100 percent precautions,” he said.
“We took a precautionary measure here so that we could drive as much as possible.”
When contemplating the Jeddah pecking order, Marko said: “Behind us, or at least it looks like it, will be an exciting battle at least between the Alpine and Fernando Alonso, and Ferrari to some extent.”
But even the 79-year-old isn’t even ruling out a surprise push for victory by Alonso.
“Alonso is in his third spring,” he said, referring to Alonso’s initial two titles with Renault, the McLaren-Ferrari-McLaren era that ended in sabbatical, and now the Spaniard’s climb back up the rankings with Alpine and Aston Martin.
“You always have to factor him in,” Marko insisted. “The overtaking against Hamilton in Bahrain was unbelievable.
“I trust him to make Aston Martin number two in Formula 1.”
What is very obvious, however, is that no challenger can currently reckon with the supremacy of Red Bull’s back-to-back world champion Max Verstappen.
“Actually, only Max is relatively a long way ahead,” Marko said. “Perez is just ahead of Alonso. You can see that Max makes the big difference in himself.”
And that is despite the fact that Verstappen, 25, arrived to Jeddah late after apparently suffering from a stomach bug.
“Max has had a relatively bad flu,” Marko said. “It’s actually only the first time I’ve seen him sweat this season.”
However, the Dutchman may not be sweating too much by late afternoon on Sunday.
“We don’t believe that Ferrari and Mercedes will get their problems under control so quickly,” Marko told Kleine Zeitung newspaper.
“We therefore see Aston Martin as the first pursuer. I don’t think Mercedes will be competitive before the summer,” said Marko.
And according to Alonso, no team can “realistically” target victories at present except for Red Bull.
“I don’t think it’s possible at the moment,” he said. “Red Bull is too strong.
“Ferrari, Mercedes, us, realistically we can’t think of a win at the moment. We should wait a few more races and then correct our weak points under high pressure.
“But of course anything can happen when you are near the front. A bad pitstop, a safety car at a good time or whatever. Then anything would be possible,” Alonso added.