It was a tale of two drivers at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix for Alpine. Esteban Ocon retired late in the race after a series of penalties pushed him further and further down the grid, while Pierre Gasly charged into the top ten after starting in 20th position.
However, Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix could be a much different story for the drivers, and for Alpine.
Both Gasly and Ocon barreled their way into the third qualifying session on Sunday, and when the dust settled — including the ten-place grid penalty for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who posted the second-fastest time — both drivers locked out spots in the top ten. Gasly will begin the race ninth, with Ocon starting in the third row, from the sixth spot.
“That was an intense qualifying session and a strong performance all around, so a good job by the entire team. Overall, I’m happy with seventh today,” said Ocon in a statement to the media, including SBNation, after qualifying. “We’re starting in sixth with Charles’ [Leclerc] penalty and it’s all to play for from the third row tomorrow. During qualifying, the car was the strongest it’s felt all weekend and it’s good to see that we’ve improved day by day, session by session, so credit to the team for that.”
Alan Permane, the team’s Sporting Director, called the qualifying session an improvement over the first week of the season. “Today’s qualifying is a significant improvement from the first race of the season and it’s certainly satisfying to have both cars reach Q3 and starting in a competitive place on the grid for tomorrow’s race,” said Permane. “Esteban did a great job with a well-executed session, which he built up lap by lap, and delivered when he needed to in an extremely tight field, split by small margins. It was important for Pierre to have a smooth session, especially after Bahrain qualifying. He’s now put himself in contention for strong points tomorrow and we’re certainly feeling good with how our long run pace has looked so far this season.”
Gasly admitted to having mixed feelings about the session, as he thought there was even more to get out of the A523. Still, the team is in good shape for Sunday. “I have mixed feelings after today’s Qualifying. While I’m pleased to reach Q3, I still feel we came up a little bit short on our expectations today and there’s some finer details we need to work on to make sure we extract the maximum from our package,” said Gasly. “It’s great that we have both cars inside the top ten – credit to Esteban on a good job – and it means we’re in a strong position for the race where the aim is to score solid points.“
All three believe a solid result for Alpine is possible when the lights go out Sunday night in Jeddah. “Tomorrow we’ll aim to have a clean race and bring both cars home in the points,” said Ocon. “It’s a long race where strategy will be important and we’re all fully focused on a strong result.”
“A decent job today, some small details to fix, and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can achieve tomorrow with both cars,” added Permane.
Despite his mixed feelings regarding qualifying, Gasly seemed the most optimistic when discussing Sunday. “Our race pace has been good, we showed that in Bahrain, and in practice yesterday, and I’m feeling confident that double points are achievable,” said Gasly on Saturday night.