Esteban Ocon couldn’t help but take a few glances at the screen that was broadcasting live the winter testing in which he had just taken part. taking a break after his morning driving session, the French driver discreetly observed the other drivers who were taking their turn on the track at the Sakhir circuit. “You never know who is giving it everything or not,” he said on Friday, February 24, putting the times achieved by the various teams during these three days of testing under the Bahraini sun into perspective. “I prefer to race,” he said.
A week later, he will have the opportunity. On Sunday, March 5 the 2023 season will begin in this very place – in Manama – with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon and his new teammate, his compatriot Pierre Gasly, will defend Alpine’s French colors, a team that at least wants to consolidate its fourth place in the 2022 constructors’ world championship.
“As a Frenchman, I still have a special affection for this team,” said Gasly, wearing Bermuda shorts and an Alpine jersey. Ocon believes there is a kind of French impetus: “I’m in the middle of it with all the marketing and media operations. Yes, I think there is a renewed interest in France.”
Owned by car manufacturer Renault, Alpine also cultivates strong British ties, as it is the nationality of the majority of its employees. The brand presented its new single-seater, the A523, on February 16 in a London nightclub. For the occasion, Alpine played on the patriotic string by recruiting the icon of French sport, Zinedine Zidane, who is the new ambassador in charge of “promoting equal opportunities.”
In F1, the concept of equal opportunity is rather utopian because the levels are so disparate between the 10 teams involved in the world championship. Even the best driver will not get very far without a high-performance car, and Alpine is fully aware of this. Coming fifth in 2021 and fourth in 2022, the team is continuing its efforts to constantly improve the single-seater it offers its drivers. “The key word will be development, development and development,” said CEO Laurent Rossi.
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‘I need to perform’
But the race to catch the trio of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, who sit far ahead – 343 points separate third place from fourth in the constructors’ championship – is more of a marathon than a sprint. “Fourth place isn’t guaranteed. In F1, we can’t rest on our laurels,” said Ocon. “It would already be a victory to close the gap to the top three.” Alpine will still have to be wary of its main rival McLaren, which it beat by 14 points in 2022, and other potential threats such as Aston Martin, which recruited Fernando Alonso, and Alfa Romeo.
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