There is no bad blood between 2023 Alpine Formula 1 drivers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly.
Their prior ‘feud’ was overblown, it won’t resurface in 2023 and it will absolutely not have an impact on Alpine’s performance this season whatsoever.
That’s clearly a message Alpine and its drivers were keen to stress during the launch of its new A523 in London.
But regardless of whether it’s true – and it very well might be – there is quite simply no number of denials or orchestrated public appearances or messaging that will stop the spotlight from being fixed on their relationship.
In fact, Alpine’s clear desire to present Ocon and Gasly as a united front and the frustrated rebuttals of both drivers when asked about their relationship during the launch will only add fuel to the fire.
The very first question asked to both Gasly and Ocon in their media sessions started somewhere along the lines of ‘you’ve had an up and down relationship with your team-mate…’.
Both drivers probably expected questions of the sort but were both evidently frustrated and were quick to jump in.
“Are you really going to hit me with that as the first question, for f***’s sake? It’s been three months and you start hitting me with these kind of questions,” Gasly said.
His words written down sound far harsher than the light-hearted tone he said them with, but inklings of frustration were evident.
Similarly, Ocon jumped in with “first question of the year! Oh my God…” when he was being asked the same question.
Again, Ocon was light-hearted with his remark in front of a media pack he was comfortable with – and both went on to deliver more detailed answers when the question was completed.
“I’m very confident, I have no doubt,” Gasly said when asked if he felt he can work with Ocon.
“I’ve spent more time with him in the last two months than I’ve spent in the last 10 years, things are going well.
“We’re grown-up people now, more mature and just aware of responsibilities [we have as] Alpine drivers, having such a group behind us.
“We have to work closely together if we want to be competitive, we’ve got to push the team forward and for that, we’ve got to work together. That’s why I have no doubt that everything will be fine.”
Ocon said he’s “confident” too and added, “you guys like the headlines and all these kinds of stories, but we are both very professional and we are going to work the way we need, to be performing”.
He said they’d never “be best friends but that doesn’t matter really, as long as the atmosphere is great inside the team and that’s how it is at the moment and that’s how it will remain during the year”.
Clearly both drivers felt a need to set the record straight but the kind of evident frustration to the question they showed is only going to create more attention if there are similar reactions to the inevitable questions that will follow during the 2023 season.
Ocon is right, journalists are inevitably going to like stories and fans are inevitably going to enjoy reading and indulging in the off-track intrigue that makes F1 what it is – it’s something Netflix’s Drive To Survive has bent to its will to such success, even if the inaccuracy of it can be frustrating.
Unlike some of the fabricated or convoluted intra-team rivalries DTS has displayed like the one between Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, who remained incredibly harmonious throughout their time at McLaren, Ocon and Gasly have a genuine history of something resembling a feud.
Even if – and all indications suggest both drivers have moved on – it’s not ill-feeling that still exists between the pair, it is naturally going to be something that journalists and fans clamour to understand more about, especially given that some elements of it remain unknown.
You can rightly feel sympathy for Ocon and Gasly having their entire relationship scrutinised. In what other line of work do you have your childhood relationships poured over and constantly brought up?
Not everyone has to be best friends with their colleagues, as Ocon rightly points out, and that doesn’t need to impair the team’s performance. The drivers have nothing to prove, at least no more than what any pair of new F1 team-mates have to show their team: that they can work well together.
But clearly Alpine thinks either the relationship – or more likely the perception of the relationship – was potentially problematic – otherwise it wouldn’t have aired a promotional video of the duo driving to Alpine’s factory or arranged for them to spend most of the winter together, including visits to Lapland and Paris.
No other team felt the need to publicly show its team-mates as united as much as Alpine did, even those where the team-mates have no obvious friendship.
Alpine’s very public display of Ocon and Gasly’s new working relationship will backfire badly if they come to blows in 2023 but even if they do, it doesn’t necessarily have to be because of their past – or evidence of a wider problem that Alpine should have already resolved. It could happen to any pair of team-mates.
Ocon and Fernando Alonso had flashpoints last year and that was nothing to do with any prior feud, nor would any pre-season bonding or exacerbated public denials of bad blood have changed that.
Alpine simply needs to manage Ocon and Gasly like any other pair of team-mates, keep them both happy and get the best out of both of them for the sake of the team.
And don’t be afraid of the spotlight; embrace it, make light of it or just at the very least, calmly reiterate the company line of no bad blood and a great working relationship.
If Gasly and Ocon can go through 2023 doing that and avoid the on-track flashpoints, the spotlight will finally fade away – but only if they and the team stop caring about the spotlight shining on their relationship in the first place.