Transcript: What Alonso really meant by being “thrown to the lions” at Suzuka

Formula 1

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Fernando Alonso expressed frustration that one of his radio messages during the Japanese Grand Prix was broadcast on Formula 1’s television feed “out of context.”

It’s not the first time a mid-race radio comment by Alonso at Suzuka has been the subject of scrutiny. But the circumstances last weekend were rather different to those of eight years ago.

The radio message in question occured on lap 20 of 53 last weekend. Alonso was in his second stint, having swapped his starting set of soft tyres for hards nine laps earlier, and he had just been passed by a string of rivals, including the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr. Having risen as high as sixth after the start he was now running seventh and appeared to be struggling.

“You’ve thrown me to the lions, to stop that early, mate,” Alonso grumbled. “It’s unbelievable.”

On the face of it, Alonso appeared to be venting in frustration about being passed. On the lap before, he had been overtaken by Sainz’s team mate Charles Leclerc too, but had ended the lap gaining a place back when Sainz pitted. But despite appearances the focus of Alonso’s concern was not the cars he had just been passed by.

The Ferraris had started fourth and sixth, Alonso tenth. A strong start saw the Aston Martin driver jumped up to sixth place to sit right behind them. Race engineer Chris Cronin was pleased by the early progress, but both knew it would be a challenge to hold onto that lofty position.

Lap: 1/53 ALO: 2’09.194
AlonsoNot too bad.
CroninI’ll take it. Well done.

A Safety Car period during the early stages helped Alonso save the soft tyres he had started on. Everyone ahead was on mediums, and the next-highest soft tyre runners were the AlphaTauri drivers five place back, who did not look like a threat.

AlphaTauri’s race pace meant they were not on Aston Martin’s radar for Sunday, but neither were the Ferraris, as gaining four places in the first few corners had not been anticipated.

Therefore the cars Alonso was most likely to be fighting later in the race based on their expected race pace were the Alpines, and he had started the race comfortably ahead of both. There was no mention of strategy until lap 11 when Alonso got the command to pit:

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Lap: 10/53 ALO: 1’39.697
CroninTsunoda and Hulkenberg have pitted, they’re currently five seconds outside our window.
Lap: 11/53 ALO: 1’42.320
CroninBox, box ‘nando. Box, box. Box, box.
Lap: 12/53 ALO: 1’58.522
CroninOK, so you should come out ahead of the three cars behind and into some clear air. But Tsunoda is at the exit of turn one now.
Alonso insisted there was no need for the Virtual Safety Car

On lap 14 there was a brief Virtual Safety Car period. Alonso was immediately concerned, anxious those around him might use it as an opportunity to pit and gain time on him during the VSC:

Lap: 13/53 ALO: 1’44.729
CroninSo there’s debris on the outside of 11. Debris outside of 11.
Cronin1.2 to Albon behind. All good.
CroninVirtual Safety Car, VSC. Slow down, keep your delta positive. You can go to extra, run switch extra.
AlonsoWhy? Why Safety Car?
CroninSo slow down, keep the delta positive. But be just positive on Safety Car line two, some people will pit. So the Mercedes haven’t stopped yet. They’ve gone round one more time.
Lap: 14/53 ALO: 1’52.044
AlonsoYeah but why this virtual? Come on.
CroninHopefully it’s very quick, they should pick up the debris and go.
AlonsoThere is no debris, no debris. Come on.
CroninSo in turn 11 there’s a double yellow. So you need to watch your delta turn 11 it’ll be a slower delta? Okay double yellow’s now gone so you’re all okay, it’s just normal VSC. Virtual Safety Car ending. Run switch race, be just positive at the restart.
CroninOkay green.
AlonsoWho benefits from this?
CroninNobody directly near us, nobody near us.

After the VSC ended Cronin reassured Alonso no one in his race had gained from it:

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Lap: 15/53 ALO: 1’38.126
CroninOkay Fernando, so we’re managing these tyres as best you can. Both Ferraris, both Mercedes have not stopped yet.
CroninSo Sainz, Hamilton and Russell will all come out behind you if they stop. Norris, Leclerc just ahead of you at the moment. Only Piastri gained with the VSC.

Esteban Ocon had made his first pit stop on lap one after picking up a puncture. He was inevitably going to need a second stop, effectively making his race a one-stop strategy, and Aston Martin suspected Alpine were planning the same for their other car. Alonso’s first pit stop had been so early he was sure to need another fresh set of rubber:

Lap: 17/53 ALO: 1’38.412
CroninOkay, so Hamilton has pitted. He should come out behind. We believe the Alpines are going to try to one-stop, for info.
Lap: 19/53 ALO: 1’40.092
CroninLeclerc behind has got DRS, 0.2.
AlonsoAh! But who are ahead?
CroninOkay so Ocon ahead. Leclerc is on 16-lap old hards.
CroninOcon 0.5. Sainz behind is 1.3.

It was at this point that Alonso made his remark on the world feed which, out of context, could easily be interpreted as being about the drivers who passed him, rather than the challenge he faced making his two-stop strategy work:

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Lap: 20/53 ALO: 1’41.133
CroninYou’ve got DRS, got energy.
AlonsoYou’ve thrown me to the lions. to stop that early, mate. It’s unbelievable.
Lap: 21/53 ALO: 1’41.105
CroninThey’ve got DRS, so has Hamilton behind.

Alpine pitted Alonso to get him ahead of Ocon
By lap 20 Alonso was behind Ocon, and was losing time to him as he was passed by the Ferraris and soon by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton too.

Ocon had switched from medium to hard tyres at the end of lap one, and that meant he could run long on what became his first proper stint. By lap nine he had regained the five positions he had lost on lap one, and was lifted into the points by Alonso’s lap 11 pit stop.

There was a gap of 9.35 seconds between them after that, and Alonso initially used the advantage of fresher tyres that were also a step softer to close in on Ocon. He got in DRS range by lap 18, but fell back out of it on lap 20. Once Alonso finally got close enough to consider passing, he realised that getting by on-track was going to be difficult:

Lap: 23/53 ALO: 1’41.023
AlonsoYeah, we need to have more straightline speed.
Lap: 24/53 ALO: 1’39.754
AlonsoHe’s pulling away on the straight, man.
CroninCopy, mate
AlonsoSo, so think of something!
CroninWe think use energy here as well as the pit straight. We’re looking at alternatives, but they’re not easy.

Ocon stayed out, so Alonso darted in and took on a second set of hard tyres that he would now need to take to the finish with more than half of the race still to go. His first set had lasted 14 laps, and these needed to last twice as long.

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Lap: 25/53 ALO: 1’43.680
CroninSo we’d have to undercut – we’d have to pass three cars. But there’s – for Plan B.
CroninBox opposite Ocon, box opposite Ocon.
AlonsoBox, box.

After just two laps on those new tyres, and setting a lap time faster than anyone but Max Verstappen had achieved at that point, Aston Martin got back on the radio.

Lap: 26/53 ALO: 1’56.635
CroninOkay so you’re clear behind it’s Zhou ahead on 15-lap-old hards.
AlonsoOkay so tell me the target lap.
CroninWill do.
Lap: 27/53 ALO: 1’37.308
CroninOkay, that’s good. It’s only about managing the surfaces. The bulks will be fine.
Lap: 28/53 ALO: 1’37.203
CroninSo 26 laps to go. We’re looking at Plan B. Good for you?
AlonsoTarget lap?
CroninIt’s plus one, plus one.

Alonso lowered his pace again on the next lap, which Ocon pitted at the end of. The Aston Martin driver easily moved ahead, nine seconds, and switched to pace management thereon to make sure his tyres would take him to the finish ahead of Ocon.

Lap: 33/53 ALO: 1’37.335
CroninOkay Fernando, so big picture: We’re looking at catching Gasly in the next four or five laps. We’re racing for P8 in all reality unless we get a Safety Car to help against the cars ahead. So we’re still Plan B plus one is optimal. Gasly five ahead, 4.9.
Lap: 34/53 ALO: 1’37.461
CroninSo Fernando you are the fastest car out of everybody at the moment.

Alonso had several follow-up remarks to his “lions” comment, including saying it was “going to be a nightmare” to keep the Alpines behind. But after prolonged consideration by Aston Martin they stuck to the two-stop strategy.

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Lap: 37/53 ALO: 1’38.139
AlonsoI will need a big tyre delta with the lack of speed we have.
Lap: 38/53 ALO: 1’38.000
CroninSo 16 laps to go to, 16.
AlonsoWhat are you thinking?
AlonsoWhat is the pace compared to them?
CroninSo we’re thinking Plan B mate. It is close, but we’re thinking Plan B, which is what we were doing. You would need to do 38.4s to the end to stay ahead of the Alpines.
CroninSo we’d come out behind Gasly if we get a few laps, five lap, six lap tyre delta.
AlonsoWhat is the gap now?
CroninThe gap to Gasly is 16 at the moment. 15 laps to go, Gasly was one second quicker. Gap to Ocon, nine-and-a-half still. Same pace as Ocon.
Lap: 39/53 ALO: 1’38.036
AlonsoWe need a max tyre delta also
Lap: 40/53 ALO: 1’38.059
CroninSo at the moment, the best thing is to stay out. With this pace, it’s really strong.
Lap: 42/53 ALO: 1’38.357
AlonsoHow many laps? What do you think?
Cronin11 to go.
CroninSo we’d come out 10 behind Gasly.
Lap: 43/53 ALO: 1’38.413
AlonsoGoing to be a nightmare.
CroninSo we are thinking the best chance is to stay out, Fernando. Gasly’s still 11 behind, just 10 laps to go at the end of this one. If anything, he catches you on the last lap.
Lap: 44/53 ALO: 1’38.699
AlonsoOkay. Keep me updated.

Alpine wasted no time at all moving Ocon out of Gasly’s way to maximise the chance of one of their drivers catching Alonso. But it was to no avail. Once it became clear to them Alonso’s pace was too strong, they told their drivers to return to their previous positions, to Gasly’s enormous annoyance.

Alonso therefore secured eighth place. He took the chequered flag over half a minute behind the first of the Ferraris. Unlike in the early rounds of the championship, Aston Martin weren’t in the hunt with them in Japan – which Alonso knew when he said he’d been “thrown to the lions”.

Lap: 53/53 ALO: 1’39.650
CroninSo one more lap, you can go to strat 10. And Gasly’s been told to give the position back to Ocon. He hasn’t done it yet.
CroninGasly still 3.7 behind.
AlonsoYes. How we did it. Okay, good, good.
CroninWe made you work there, well done mate.

2023 Japanese Grand Prix

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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2 comments on “Transcript: What Alonso really meant by being “thrown to the lions” at Suzuka”

  1. I think the main point of radio transmissions has become to stir up controversy. If the drivers don’t do it themselves, using it like a social media channel to winge to the world then you can always take a juicy tidbit made in between gear shifts, and broadcast it out of context so that the rabid fans and armchair lawyers will be up in arms attacking them.

  2. I don’t get the article -or Alonso’s supposed outrage- at all. It’s quite similar to a silly superfluous AWS metric, as it was as plain as it gets what he meant with his radio message.

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