SAKHIR, Bahrain -- Fernando Alonso has played down his chances of taking his first pole position in Formula One since the 2012 German Grand Prix after he topped Friday practice for the opening race of the 2023 season in Bahrain.
Alonso doubled down on the excitement surrounding Aston Martin's new car after preseason testing by setting the fastest time in second practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix, 0.169s faster than the best lap time of reigning champion Max Verstappen.
He also set a series of lap times over a longer run with a heavier fuel load that were marginally slower than a similar run by Verstappen, indicating that the Aston Martin also has strong race pace.
Asked if he'd now be disappointed if he missed out on pole position in Saturday's qualifying session, Alonso said: "I'm not thinking that high. Actually I don't know exactly what position will be a good one for us.
"After testing we were thinking to be in Q3 with both cars and score as many points as possible in these first couple of races and not make mistakes.
"It's very easy to make mistakes, it's not the same fighting for P12 or P14 as fighting for the top five positions because the pressure is different, the adrenaline is different, so there are a lot of things that we as a team we have to grow together in this process.
"We have to keep our feet on the ground and the target has to be fighting for the championship in the long term, but I don't think in this year yet."
Alonso said he was still fine tuning the car's setup but remains wary that the layout of the Bahrain International Circuit may be flattering the strengths of the Aston Martin and hiding weaknesses that could be exposed at other circuits.
"It's good to see in the times that you are competitive. After testing there is always a mixed feeling of where you are and still until we go into qualifying and the race -- even the first three races are at very different circuits, Bahrain, Jeddah and Australia.
"At the moment we are just concentrating on ourselves. There are a lot of things to improve on the car, the balance was not completely perfect today and also the team has to change a few things."
Alonso's teammate Lance Stroll set the sixth fastest time despite missing all of preseason testing with a broken wrist.
He took part in Friday practice with two pins in his wrist after surgery last week, but positioned his hand off the steering wheel a number of times in Turn 1.
"I was just protecting it, it feels a little more comfortable," he said. "I feel like I can definitely drive, no problem."