Esteban Ocon says he’s glad to see Fernando Alonso leave Alpine after having to bear more than his fair share of the load alongside the decorated Spaniard.
Alonso returned to Formula 1 after a two-year sabbatical as the French team’s star signing to replace Daniel Ricciardo. The two-time champion’s signature was considered a signal of intent that Alpine expected to maintain its forward momentum as it rebuilt itself into a race-winning force.
But hosting the notoriously prickly Spaniard hasn’t always made for smooth sailing at Enstone.
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Alonso’s frustration with Alpine’s chronic unreliability this season has boiled over several times, and his ferociousness on the track has frequently led to episodes of friendly fire with teammate Ocon.
The most recent example came at the São Paulo Grand Prix, where they clashed three times on the opening lap of the sprint. The ensuing damage to their cars dropped them from sixth and seventh to 17th and 18th at a crucial juncture at the team’s fight with McLaren for fourth in the championship.
Despite the stewards penalising Alonso for making contact, the Spaniard implied it had been Ocon’s fault for racing him too aggressively.
“It’s one more race and then it’s over — finally,” Alonso said. “It’s been a little like that all year long.
“I was very close to the wall in Jeddah with him, close to the wall in Budapest, today in turn 4, now here.
“It happened to him with [former teammate Sergio] Perez, with [Max] Verstappen here unlapping himself.
“It’s one more race.”
Ocon toed the party line for the weekend, but speaking to the French media at the season-ending weekend in Abu Dhabi, the Frenchman said he was unhappy that his outbound teammate had publicly aired his grievances.
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“Of course I was disappointed that his comments were made in the press and not internally,” he said. “We didn’t have any discussions about any of that. I will keep the respect I have for him.”
Ocon went further, revealing that he didn’t think much of Alonso’s commitment behind the scenes.
“Honestly, the work was 98 per cent on my back and 2 per cent on his,” he said. “I was overworked. I did all the development on the simulator, the marketing trips.
“It’s good that he’s going to Aston Martin and that we’re going our own way.”
But Alonso’s reputation doesn’t appear to bother Aston Martin, where his new team boss, Mike Krack, said he considered the Spaniard’s aggression as a positive.
“This is an example of dedication and motivation,” Krack said of Alonso’s simmering frustration over unreliability, per the BBC. “So if you have someone with this with this passion and drive to win, it has an impact on the team.
“And we could clearly see that everybody was really happy to have this guy in the car last Tuesday (for the post-season test). So I think he ignited maybe another spark from his own passion and desire to win on to the team.”
In any case, Alpine may have ended up trading one fractious relationship for another. New singing Pierre Gasly has a long-running conflict with Ocon dating back to their karting days.
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The team was aware of this before signing Gasly to the seat for next year, and both have apparently committed to maintain a professional respect for the benefit of the team and each other.
“Hopefully what they say is true, and I believe it is,” Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer said. “I’ve talked to both of them and they both say the same thing.
“I’ve talked to Esteban more than Pierre, as I know [him] more, and I asked him, ‘Do you think this is an opportunity to rekindle your friendship?’
“He said, ‘Yeah, never say never. Let’s see what happens’. So he is definitely open to it.
“I didn’t ask that same question to Pierre, but once they are friends again or are working together professionally, that fit becomes no different than any other two drivers.”