Is Ocon's problem a car flaw or just Alonso? - The Race
Formula 1

Is Ocon’s problem a car flaw or just Alonso?

Jul 7 2021
By Edd Straw

Esteban Ocon is aiming to “restart fresh” at the British Grand Prix after a dismal pair of race weekends at the Red Bull Ring, with the Alpine Formula 1 driver hoping a change of as many car parts as possible will turn his season back around.

The 24-year-old was eliminated in the first stage of qualifying for both the Styrian and Austrian Grands Prix. Having lapped 0.246s off team-mate Fernando Alonso on the first Red Bull Ring weekend, he was a massive 0.964s slower on their first Q1 runs on the second weekend.

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With Alonso not needing to have a second attempt, Ocon closed to 0.579s off by the end of the session. But it was the first run he cited as evidence that something is not right.

“We see a few things and we are seeing some deficit, but it is hard to put the finger on exactly what it is,” said Ocon when asked by The Race what he believes is wrong.

“Also, we don’t want to give information [to others] on what it could be.

“But will start from fresh in Silverstone, change as many parts as we can on the car and hopefully come back much stronger.

“To be one second slower on the first run compared to Fernando, the difference is too big. So there’s definitely something that was not working right and that we need to understand.”

Ocon had a strong start to the season. After a frustrating season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, where yellow-flag misfortune led to his elimination in Q1 before he was rear-ended by Sebastian Vettel in the race, he then went on a run of four consecutive points finishes from Imola to Monaco.

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His new three-year deal to remain with the team was announced after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku. There, he grazed the wall on his final Q2 lap and set the 12th-fastest time before retiring from 11th early on with an engine problem.

This was followed by a pair of 14th places at Paul Ricard and the first Red Bull Ring race, prior to his unfortunate elimination on the opening lap last Sunday when he was squeezed between Mick Schumacher and Antonio Giovinazzi at Turn 3.

Ocon’s downturn has coincided with Alonso showing his best form of the season with four consecutive points finishes.

While it could be a case of Alonso hitting form and simply extracting more from the car, Ocon points to the fact his performances relative to rivals outside the team has also suffered – in particular since Alpine introduced upgrades in Azerbaijan.

He would not elaborate on what parts he wants to be changed, including whether the monocoque could be switched, but he did ask for the maximum possible based on discussions with the team between now and Silverstone.

“I don’t know, the maximum possible would be very welcome,” said Ocon. “I will have a chat with the team and see what’s possible to do the most.

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“The more things we can change the better it would be then because then it’s one doubt less.

“That’s what we are going to find out with the discussions with the guys. We are discussing changing some parts already to just restart fresh.

“Obviously, the deficit in performance that we had was not good enough this weekend and last weekend.”

If the car itself is not the problem, given Ocon stressed that he felt the balance is good, then it’s legitimate to ask if Alonso is simply extracting more from the package. After all, he reckoned it took him five weekends to hit form, and in events six to nine, he has been emphatically the stronger Alpine driver.

A look at his onboards from Q1 suggests Ocon is less confident on turn-in to corners. This could potentially be down to not coping with any rear instability as well as Alonso does – something that the Spaniard’s last F1 team-mate, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, struggled with.

After all, Ocon wouldn’t be the first very good driver to go up against Alonso and have difficulty reproducing his magic.

But it could also be a symptom of a car problem if there is one there to be found. This means how Ocon gets on at Silverstone and the Hungaroring after whatever car-part action that is needed is taken will be pivotal. It could be the start of a long, hard battle for him.

On the plus side, with that long-term deal in his back pocket, he should have plenty of time to work at it.

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