Alonso celebrates on the podium after finishing third in Qatar on Sunday. / efe

Fernando Alonso makes a long-awaited return to the podium in Qatar

The Spaniard, who drives for Alpine, came third at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday

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Fernando Alonso recorded the best result of his comeback season so far on Sunday, securing a third-place podium at the first Qatar Grand Prix.

Alonso, 40, had his best qualifying performance of the year, finishing fifth. The Alpine driver was later promoted to third after Valterri Bottas and Max Verstappen received grid penalties for failing to slow for warning flags during qualifying.

Alonso started off on soft tyres, with the Alpine team deciding on a one-stop strategy to minimise time spent in the pits. He took excellent care of his tyres while continuing with great pace, managing to delay his pit stop until lap 24.

Though it looked like Pérez and Bottas had snatched the podium from him following his pit stop, Bottas’ puncture on lap 34 eliminated this risk.

The deployment of the Virtual Safety Car to remove Nicholas Latifi’s car from the track helped to break Pérez’s momentum and ensure a podium finish for Alonso.

This was the 98th podium of the Spaniard’s career and his first since coming second for Ferrari at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2014. This sets a new record for the longest gap between podiums.

Summarising his feelings post-race, the double world champion said, “Yeah, unbelievable. Seven years and we finally did it.”

It was a memorable day all round for Alpine with Esteban Ocon finishing in fifth. Alpine now have a 25-point lead on their rivals for fifth place in the Constructors' Championship, AlphaTauri.

With two races to go until the end of the season, the gap between Verstappen and Hamilton for the Drivers' Championship is now a nail-biting eight points.

Mercedes leads the Constructors' Championship points table, tailed by Red Bull Racing with a five-point gap.

The next race will be the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday 5 December.