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Formula 1

The only winner at F1's worst team in 2024

by Edd Straw
4 min read

Esteban Ocon is the only real winner amid Alpine’s 2024 struggles, getting the better of team-mate Pierre Gasly so far in what could be a crucial season for his career given the looming expiry of his contract.

The 27-year-old has outqualified Gasly in all four events so far this year, with an average advantage of two tenths of a second. He’s also finished ahead of Gasly in two of the three races where both made the chequered flag.

There are some caveats. Gasly has been a little more experimental with his set-up approach, as has often been the case. For example, at Suzuka his set-up in qualifying worked the rear tyres harder and led to an untidy qualifying as the grip went away.

He has also had some bad luck in races, effectively retiring before the race even got going in Saudi Arabia with a gearbox problem that manifested itself on the formation lap - and suffering floor damage in the brush with Ocon at the start at Suzuka. Ocon also sustained damage in that, although lost less downforce.

However, Ocon has just been the more convincing performer overall.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine, F1

That’s significant given that Gasly got the upper hand across the second half of last season.

While Ocon argued that was largely down to the influence of luck, Gasly did appear assert himself as his first season with the team progressed.

Ocon’s future is uncertain given he’s out of contract at the end of the year, while Gasly could also be in a position to move on. Both are known to be exploring alternatives, which is logical given Alpine’s struggles, although currently their options appear limited to other teams in the second half of the grid.

Ocon is a contender for an Audi drive, although that appears contingent on the Sauber team not being able to lure Carlos Sainz into the fold given Nico Hulkenberg is in a strong position to land the other seat. Williams is also a possible destination for either Alpine driver.

“The most important [thing] always is how you perform on track,” said Ocon when asked by The Race whether he wants to translate his good form into a move elsewhere or if his priority is to extend his stay at Alpine. “The rest - the opportunities, the talks always come with that.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine, F1

“I’m focusing mostly on what I have to do and we'll see about the rest. But we need to be improving, that's what we are focusing on.

"I'm committed to this team at the moment. And that’s what I'm looking for.”

If he can sustain this form as the lead Alpine driver, that will help his cause whether that's in earning a new deal at his current team or making a move elsewhere.

However, Gasly has shown how competitive he can be once he has the car in a window that gives him the ability to attack corners on the brakes with confidence, which means that as the Alpine improves, the balance of power could shift.

Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, Alpine, F1

The first stage of Alpine’s upgrade programme was a minor one at Suzuka, featuring a new front wing and a step in reducing the weight of the car.

The weight issue arose thanks to countermeasures after the chassis failed the lateral load test, and while the talk at the start of the season that Alpine was 11kg over the minimum weight was exaggerated, it was at a significant disadvantage.

Chipping away at this is an ongoing process and the car is still overweight, with the target to get it below the minimum in order to give it more flexibility in how to influence weight distribution with ballast.

The drivers are not the problem for Alpine. Both have a grand prix victory each to their name and have a proven track record in F1’s midfield. But they have been forced to come to terms with the team's diminished ambitions and a car that, despite Ocon hauling it into Q2 for the past two weekends, has usually been the slowest this year.

“It’s difficult to recalibrate the targets of what we wanted to achieve and what we could achieve,” said Ocon. “But as a professional driver, what's important is always to use the best of what you have and that's the target.

"I want to extract the maximum out of the car, it doesn't matter if it's a Q1 car, a Q3. car, I'm going to try and do the best I can.

“We’ve changed a lot of things, a lot of approaches for this year with my side of the garage. The way we are working at the moment is very good.

"We are happy with the first couple of races that we've done in terms of extracting the max and I'm happy with my approach, the mental side of things and the work I'm doing with the team. Now the important thing is to keep that going.”

Given there are bigger teams and more in-demand drivers yet to decide on their futures, it will likely be a while before Alpine or either man in its driver pairing commit one way or the other. But right now, Alpine likely has a lot of work to do to ensure it has the chance to keep either or both of its drivers.

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