Alpine still feel there is ‘more on the table’ after mighty Friday in Jeddah
Alpine delivered an eye-catching display on Friday at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but do not believe they have peaked yet.
The Enstone squad headed to Saudi Arabia still uncertain about just how competitive their A523 could be.
A series of time penalties for Esteban Ocon in Bahrain, accumulated for a starting procedure infringement, failure to serve his initial five-second penalty and then speeding in the pit lane, saw his race fall apart after qualifying P9.
That was the position where his team-mate Pierre Gasly ultimately finished, having fought through the pack after starting the race from P20 and last.
Saudi Arabia then is a clean slate, and the race weekend could not have gotten off to a much better start as Ocon ended FP2 up in P4, four-tenths off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at the top of the timings, while Gasly, in P6, was within half a second of his former team-mate.
Already then this is an extremely strong start for the team, with Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko tipping them to take the fight to Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso for ‘best of the rest’ behind Red Bull, Alonso of course a former Alpine driver.
And if that is a fight that Alpine are about to pick, then it is encouraging that Gasly still thinks he can extract more from the A523.
“I must say I am pretty happy,” Gasly told media in Jeddah. “Strong Friday for the team, [and] we’ve got some good potential. We’ve shown some good speed. It’s very positive.
“I can still feel there are a couple of things here and there that I am not fully happy about. So, there’s probably more on the table, but looking at the lap times, we seem to be there. So, good start.”
Come the end of FP2, a session that took place in conditions representative of qualifying under the floodlights, the pack behind Alpine was looking very congested, meaning we could be in for a repeat of that ultra-competitive Q1 seen in Bahrain.
But while Alpine were within the top 10 by half a second come the end of FP2 in Saudi Arabia, Gasly still expects a fierce battle in the bit to make Q3 on Saturday.
“I expect a very tight battle, same as in Bahrain, especially in qualifying,” said Gasly.
“We are going to be looking at one or two tenths, and we are going to see about seven, eight cars in that battle for Q3. So, important to tidy up everything for tomorrow. But it gets me excited.”
That is one-lap pace then, but how about looking ahead to Sunday? FP2 of course is a very important session for race simulations as teams look to get a feel for how they will stack up against the competition on the day where the points are handed out.
And in this area, Gasly said Alpine crucially were also looking strong.
“Race pace looked good,” Gasly confirmed. “We need to go through all the numbers, it’s still quite fresh. But generally speaking, we are looking pretty strong.”
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Ocon also believes that qualifying will be a case of “fine margins” for himself and the Alpine team.
“I think if we nail that qualifying tomorrow, I think we can put ourselves in a strong position for the race,” he said. “It’s going to be fine margins, but we will go for it, and I’m excited for tomorrow.”
And as for the race, Ocon says the goal is to get Alpine’s season going properly after that stumble out of the blocks in Bahrain, which means bagging a strong haul of points.
“The target is to score good points, to have a decent weekend with both cars and, you know, start our season properly,” he confirmed.
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