Esteban Ocon has described the surprise new management at the Alpine Formula 1 team as “very humble” and “very motivated”, following Cyril Abiteboul’s abrupt exit and the installation of Laurent Rossi and Davide Brivio.
While the recruitment of Brivio from the title-winning Suzuki MotoGP team was a planned coup by the former Renault F1 squad, it was caught off guard by erstwhile team principal Abiteboul’s complete exit from the company. The promotion of Rossi to CEO happened in response.
In an interview with Sky Sports F1, Ocon said his initial conversations with his new bosses had been encouraging.
“I’ve met Laurent, I’ve met Davide on the phone and by video conference,” he said.
“We spoke for a long time, and we are in good hands.
“They are very humble people, very motivated. They are looking to make a step with the team, trying to guide us in a good direction, and that’s a very good thing.
“I feel very confident with the new people.
“Obviously I am very sad to see Cyril leave. He has brought us and the project to here. I wish him all the best. He’s someone that I really like.
“But the future is bright for Alpine.”
Ocon’s reputation suffered in comparison to Daniel Ricciardo at Renault last year when he was outscored by 57 points by his team-mate and lost the qualifying head-to-head 15-2. He now faces double F1 world champion Fernando Alonso as his 2021 partner.
But Ocon believes the advantages of a full year working with the team transform his prospects.
“In the second year with the team normally you are more established, and I really want to start the year like I ended the last one – which is on a much higher level than where I started,” said Ocon, who took his first F1 podium in the Sakhir Grand Prix last month.
“I now know the team better, the team knows me better, they also know what I need and all in all I think it should be easier for me to get around things.
“I’m looking to start straight away ready and on top of my game.”
Edd Straw on Ocon’s 2020 tribulations
While taking a beating from Ricciardo must have been a chastening experience, the upside is that it forced Ocon to take a very close look at his game as he battled to close the gap.
That should put him in a better position to take on Alonso, even if doing so successfully depends on there being a significant upside to come.
There were certainly times, particularly in the first half of the 2020 season, when Ocon was a more ragged version of the driver he had been in the past. But that reflects how hard he was pushing to try to match Ricciardo as well as being out of synch with the car.
As the season progressed and Ocon found a better way of working with his engineers, which also required him to modify his approach and attitude, it appeared to come more easily for him.
He reckoned that he got the car most to his satisfaction at the end of the season, particularly in the Bahrain races.
The main frustration was that he regularly found himself on the wrong side of the qualifying battle by a slender margin of a few hundredths, which was an improvement from the big margins early in the season – even if there were still times late in the season when Ricciardo did surprise him by leaping ahead on Saturday. This was a big step forward from where he was at the start of the season.
Ocon admitted Alonso’s arrival meant he’d be sharing the garage with an idol, albeit one that he also now communicated with as a friend.
“He’s someone that I really respect as a driver. I have so much respect for what he has done,” said Ocon.
“When I was watching Michael [Schumacher] and him fighting, he was the person giving me the motivation to become who I am today.”
He joked that Alonso’s controversial participation in the ‘young driver’ test after the Abu Dhabi GP meant that the F1 returnee went into 2021 with the most recent mileage, and underlined that he didn’t expect any rustiness from Alonso despite his time away from the F1 grid.
“He has been practicing, he is coming to a very strong level straight away so he’s going to be a very strong opponent,” said Ocon.
“But I’m definitely going to fight hard. I know what I have to face and I know that I am ready for the challenge.
“But I know that he will definitely be ready straight away. I know that.”