After Esteban Ocon finished in P7 at the 2022 F1 season finale in Abu Dhabi he was quick to call 2022 his best year in Formula One. The Frenchman also seemed to relish the fact that he finished ahead of his illustrious two-time F1 Drivers’ Champion teammate Fernando Alonso in the F1 Drivers’ Championship.
To label the working relationship between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon as ‘complicated’ would be an understatement. From the high of the support Alonso gave Ocon in 2021 on his way to a maiden F1 Grand Prix in Hungary to the low of the pair colliding in the Brazilian F1 Sprint this year, the partnership has been far from boring. Speaking post-race in Abu Dhabi to media which included Motorlat, Esteban Ocon made sure to praise his teammate as he said: “It’s been great to work with Fernando and improve the team…I’m glad to have spent two years with him. I wish him the best at Aston and hopefully we can fight closely also in the future.”
Esteban Ocon then went on to describe the impact having a two-time F1 Drivers’ Champion as his teammate had on his overall performance. “He’s a very, very fast driver. Obviously, I had to up my game as much as I could. To finish in front of him is a good satisfaction. Obviously, the only thing that I missed this year is in the end a podium but those are for different circumstances that we didn’t get and hopefully we can get some of that next year.” said Ocon.
The conversation then shifted slightly with a question as to whether there was a difference between Alonso’s telemetry and his own. Ocon’s reply claimed “Not by much. In qualifying, not by much. In the race probably a little bit but not a million miles away.” When pressed as to in whose favour this was, Ocon quipped. “Well I finished ahead in the championship so I guess my favour.” One can imagine that Fernando Alonso would have had something to say on this claim due to the various mechanical issues which befell the Spanish two-time F1 Drivers’ Champion throughout his two years with Alpine.
Meanwhile, Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer was later asked for his thoughts on Esteban Ocon’s season and chose to reflect on Suzuka 2022, a race he deemed to be Ocon’s best of the year.
“He’s had some fabulous races and there are other times where we thought ‘oh no, the performance isn’t there’ and then he pulled it out. So, really, really good for him but Suzuka stands out for me…that was amazing. Lewis, in a Mercedes, very good in the wet, changeable conditions, drying conditions, driving in your mirrors all the time. Lewis was in the faster car, just look where they finished in the championship, and he held them off – brilliant.” stated Szafnauer.
The man helping to steer the ship at Alpine then attempted to give his driver a new nickname when being asked if Ocon’s defensive driving meant he was one of the best defenders on the grid. Particularly following his performance just a few hours earlier when he had proved such an obstacle to Sebastian Vettel in his final F1 Grand Prix.
“Yeah, he’s done a great job…I was comfortable today that he would be able to defend and he did. I know Checo’s nickname is Minister of Defence but maybe they should change that to – what’s ministry of defence in France…anybody? Let’s figure out what that is and give him that nickname.” Szafnauer concluded.
Before this, Otmar Szafnauer had been asked if Fernando Alonso had a point with regard to saying he had been frustrated with the reliability of his Alpine.
“Yeah, I mean for sure he [Alonso] had more failures than Esteban did and it was always at times when he could have scored good points. So yeah, he does. I too am not happy I think in Melbourne he could have been maybe on pole position but he had an issue in qualifying so for sure that’s disappointing. However, even if we had no issues on Fernando’s side and he would’ve scored all those points that he lost, we still would’ve finished fourth in the championship and that was our goal and we’ve achieved that.” Szafnauer claimed.
Alpine were in a season long battle with McLaren for P4 in the Constructors’ Championship and thanks to the combined effort of Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon and the team as a whole - came out on top. 2023 will bring with it a whole new host of challenges to Alpine as teammates become rivals on opposing teams. For Esteban Ocon to finish ahead of Fernando Alonso next year will be no mean feat and require supreme driving…or poor reliability. Either way, it is certain to be a battle worth watching.