Ocon and Gasly look to kickstart Alpine’s F1 season at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

JEDDAH: It has been far from an ideal start to the 2024 season for the Alpine F1 Team, but drivers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly are all smiles as they settle into familiar surroundings at Jeddah Corniche Circuit ahead of the fourth edition of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

It is a track where both drivers have enjoyed good fortune in recent years.

At the first Formula One race by the Red Sea, Ocon finished fourth, and has since had two top-10 finishes, while Gasly has also claimed points in all three Saudi Arabia races.

Last week saw a disappointing start to the season for the French team at the Bahrain Grand Prix, which has led to sweeping changes at management level, but the drivers are focused on turning their fortunes around on the track this weekend.

“I’ve really liked the track since I came here in the first year and I had a very good race back then, almost finishing on the podium, for third in the last 50 meters,” Ocon told Arab News, recalling his outstanding drive in 2021.

“It was very close, I started on the pole as well at some stage during the race. And it was definitely a great experience, feeling the flow of the track, the grip that it has and just the layout in general. I think it’s a beautiful circuit. So yeah, can’t wait to race this track again.”

Ocon acknowledges that while the team has yet to get into their stride this season, this track could provide an opportunity for early improvement.

“Obviously, we are not as competitive as we were towards the end of last year. But on this track, we’ve always done better than the other races. And I hope that we can make a little step forward, to be fighting with our competitors more closely. We’re going to look to be doing that.”

The 27-year-old hopes it is a matter of time before changes off the track will lead to positive changes on it.

“We are not in the place that we want to be in, but we’re all sticking together,” Ocon said. “I trust them to turn things around and for us to be moving forward.”

Gasly echoes Ocon’s sentiments about a circuit that has served Alpine well and hopes it would provide a platform for improvement on Saturday.

“I must say I like the track,” he said. “It’s a very high-speed layout, a lot of high-speed corners, long straights. It’s definitely fun to drive around here.”

“Obviously we had a very tough first race last week in Bahrain and we know the car is not where we would like it to be in terms of performance. We have no upgrade this weekend, so we expect another tough weekend, but hopefully maybe on a slightly different track, hopefully it can be slightly better.”

“In F1 you can’t find solutions overnight,” Gasly added. “We’ve got to wait for the upgrades to come. But in the meantime, we’ve got to do the best with the package we’ve got, which we know is not very competitive, but we’ve got to try and give us the maximum chances and that’s what I’ll try to do in the car.”

Gasly, who joined Alpine in 2023 to complete a unique all-French lineup in a French team, remains confident that the team’s ceiling is higher than what Formula One fans have seen recently.

“I definitely believe and trust the team to make the improvements, we’ve got to be back at the front,” said the 28-year-old. “Obviously, it’s going to be a big challenge. We know the starting point is far away from where we would have liked it to be. But everyone’s working absolutely flat out to try to find solutions and try to find more performance.”

Alpine finished fourth in the 2022 Constructors’ Championship, and sixth last year. Returning to a midfield position in the standings will not be easy, but Gasly says that Formula One’s longest-ever season should give them room to improve.

“It’s extremely tight field and it’s going to be a long season, 24 races,” he said. “We’ve got to push. It’s only early in the season and hopefully we can make the step we need.”

It promises to be a closely contested season, with several teams having made significant changes in their cars since the last campaign.

“It’s Formula One,” Gasly said. “I think generally we know it’s a tough competition every single season. And also the other teams, they’ve been working really well, and managed to make some good improvements over the winter.”

“And unfortunately, we didn’t achieve the same,” he added. “We’ve got to work, we’ve got to work out. There’s no secret that’s what everyone’s doing. For the meantime, we will do as best we can.”

And does he remain positive when he gets in that boxed seat?

“Always, always.”

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