In his first season with Aston Martin, Fernando Alonso was able to celebrate securing fourth place in the drivers championship thanks to a strong finish to the year at Abu Dhabi where he crossed the line in seventh place.
“It feels a bit unexpected, and I would not have put any money on myself finishing fourth this season," Alonso admitted in the paddock at Yas Marina. "It's like a gift to finish ahead of the Ferraris and Lando Norris!
"If you’d told me before this weekend that I’d finish fourth in the drivers’ championship, I wouldn’t have believed you," he continued. "I’m really pleased with the way I’ve driven all season
“Together with 2012, I consider this to be my best season ever," he stated. "And better than 2005 and 2006 for sure!" he added, referring to his back-to-back world championship-winning campaigns.
"I got the maximum from the car all season," he said, thanking the whole team for their efforts. "This year has far exceeded all our wildest expectations and every single person should be proud of what we’ve achieved."
Alonso finished equal on points to Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, but was classified ahead of him in the final standings on countback that included six podiums in the first eight races.
But his new surge of success this season has also meant that some old feuds have been rekindled, including one with his former McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton who accused of 'brake testing' him during Sunday's race.
As he came back out on track after his second pit stop, Alonso moved ot the right hand side of the track into turn 5 and lifted off the throttle which caught Hamilton by surprise.
The Mercedes driver instantly claimed over the team radio that Alonso had 'brake tested' him. The stewards investigated Alonso for 'driving erratically' but decided to take no action over the matter.
Alonso later explained that it hadn't been a brake test at all. Instead, he had slowed to allow Hamilton through so he could instead gain DRS off the Mercedes into the long drag towards turn 6.
"We did the same in Canada in 2012 [actually 2013]" Alonso continued. "So 11 [actually ten] years after that episode, we tried to give the DRS to the other guy by braking for turn 5. But in both cases I won so, it's okay."
Hamilton did use DRS to pass Alonso on that lap, but Alonso eventually retook the position and went on to pass Yuki Tsunoda for seventh by the chequered flag while Hamilton didn't manage to get past the AlphaTauri on the final lap.
"Lewis is obviously very clever and understands the sport really good and has a lot of experience," Alonso said, dismissing Hamilton's radio appeal to the stewards for Alonso to be handed a sanction. "But I have more!"
Alonso added that the DRS ploy with Hamilton was needed because the AMR23 "needs a lot more pace to overtake, we were a little bit slow on the straights", adding that it had been "our weakness all throughout the season".
Higher than expected tyre wear was also a factor this weekend. "By lap 16 or something like that we made the first stop, and we knew that the race was long from that point.
"The lap in qualifying was very good for the position, but the pace was a concern. That’s what we saw today," he noted. "At the end the pace was only good for seventh or eighth, just enough to beat AlphaTauri. But that's not enough."
A flying start to 2023 ebbed away over the summer, and Aston fell behind McLaren in the battle over fourth during the latter part of the season, raising questions about whether they can regain their best form over the winter.
Alonso will play a major role as he remains under contract for 2024, but nothing is decided after that. He's already the oldest driver on the grid at 42, but it's clear that he's not in any hurry to move on.
“The level of performance, the consistency," he said. "I am very happy with how I connected with this team with the car [and] very excited for next season.
"The whole Aston Martin team has worked incredibly hard and I am already looking forward to going into the winter and starting work for next season.
"We started this year as an underdog, but we’ll start 2024 very much in the spotlight; we need to be ready for that."