Progress made by Alpine, but still work to be done to compete with top teams
Alpine’s ambitious goal to be more competitive with the top Formula 1 teams, Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes, seems to be paying off as they show progress in their performance. Despite their double-points finish at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the team is not entirely satisfied and recognizes the need to improve their pace to compete with the leading teams.
Let’s set aside the expectations for the constructors’ championship for a moment. Before the season started, Alpine aimed to improve its performance and be more competitive with whichever of the top three Formula 1 teams, Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes, ended up at the back of that group in 2023.
The first race in Bahrain was inconclusive, but Alpine’s smooth weekend at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix suggests that they have achieved their goal.
Red Bull has raised the bar this year, so despite Esteban Ocon finishing in eighth place, his 52-second gap to race winner Sergio Perez may not indicate a significant improvement compared to his 56-second gap in the previous year.
The races were comparable as they both had safety cars at similar stages. Furthermore, even if we exclude Max Verstappen’s exceptional RB19 car from the equation, Ocon still started ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc but finished behind them. Additionally, Aston Martin has made progress and is now in the leading pack alongside the top teams.
However, Ocon managed to close the gap to Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari and finished within 10 seconds of him. Ocon had to overtake Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri after the safety car restart, and from the end of lap 24, when he passed Tsunoda and was just inside two seconds of Leclerc, he lost 7.783 seconds over the remaining 26 uninterrupted laps to the finish. On average, he lost about 0.297 seconds per lap during this period.
Alpine’s sporting director, Alan Permane, appears to agree that the team has made progress. He believes that they are closer to Ferrari and Mercedes than they were last year, although he hasn’t done a thorough analysis yet. Permane is confident that they have closed the gap to Ferrari, especially since last year, Ferrari was fighting for wins at this point in the season.
Although the analysis might seem overly optimistic and based on a limited sample size, that’s not really the main focus here. Alpine wasn’t trying to overly celebrate their double-points finish. Alan Permane’s response to a question from The Race about how satisfied he was with Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso finishing in eighth and ninth place in Jeddah revealed a lot about the team’s mood at the moment.
Permane mentioned that the timing of the safety car didn’t significantly impact their race, as it came after Ocon and Pierre Gasly had pitted. In fact, it might have slightly slowed their race time because they had to overtake Yuki Tsunoda after the safety car restart. However, he did mention that the team was satisfied with a clean and straightforward race, with two quick pit stops and a decent strategy.
Nonetheless, the team is not entirely satisfied with their pace and feels they need to be quicker to achieve their goals.
Esteban Ocon shared a similar view and expressed happiness to finally start his season. He considered it a strong weekend for the team, as they were able to maximize their qualifying and race performance.
However, he also acknowledged that they couldn’t keep up with the cars in front and need to improve to be competitive with them. Ocon and the team’s ultimate goal is to be up there with the leading teams and fight them for top positions.
Ocon mentioned that they hoped to hold off the Ferraris at some point, but they were too quick and pulled away during the middle phase of the second stint. As a result, they had to manage their pace and focus on bringing the car home.
Despite a strong weekend overall, he acknowledged that they need to improve their performance to catch up with the cars in front. Ocon and the team are hopeful that they have learned a lot from the race and can come back stronger in the next one.
Given the team’s pre-weekend ambitions of having the pace to compete with Mercedes, which didn’t materialize in the race, and the impressive start to the season by Aston Martin that has surprised most of the F1 community, Esteban Ocon did not believe that having three scores from the first two races was sufficient for Alpine to feel content.
In response to a question from The Race about whether the team could be happy with their season start in light of Aston Martin’s strong performance, Ocon stated that they could not be satisfied with where they are at the moment. The team’s ultimate goal is to improve their pace and compete with the top teams, and they need to continue working hard to achieve that.
Ocon acknowledged that a few teams have made significant improvements over the others, demonstrating that progress is possible. He emphasized the need for the team to continue fighting and thinking creatively to improve their performance. Although the team is working hard and has a positive atmosphere, they cannot be content with their current position and must continue to strive for better results.
Aston Martin’s remarkable improvement from being the sixth/seventh-fastest team in 2022 to the second-best team at the start of 2023 has had a significant impact on the competition. Without Aston Martin’s leap, Alpine might have considered their performance a reasonable step towards achieving their pre-season goal.
However, Aston Martin’s success has forced Alpine to acknowledge that they have not done well enough. The team had set a target of winning a Grand Prix within 100 races, but they now realize they need to improve their performance to achieve this goal.
Alan Permane emphasized that their pre-season target was to be closer to the third-fastest team than the fifth, which is not the case at the moment. However, he also acknowledged that they may be closer to Mercedes, the third-fastest team, than they were last year.
Although Alpine is not currently where they want to be, Alan Permane believes that Aston Martin has surprised everyone with the progress they have made. Even though they are currently behind Mercedes and Ferrari, there is still hope for improvement.
In 2022, Alpine had a successful upgrade strategy, which they consistently implemented throughout the season, and this was one of their strengths. Therefore, the team can focus on continuing this approach and developing their car throughout the season to improve their performance.
According to Alan Permane, Alpine is confident that they can make similar progress this year through consistent and effective upgrades. The team needs to focus on developing the car and increasing downforce to improve their performance. Last year, Alpine had success with this approach, and they plan to continue it this year.
The team has good correlation and can be confident that their parts and upgrades will work and improve the car. However, the challenge for Alpine is to outdevelop the rest of the field at a faster rate to catch up with the leading teams.
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