How Alpine delivered a 'spot on' performance in Qatar
Fernando Alonso's podium and Esteban Ocon's 5th place cemented a superb weekend for Alpine in Qatar.
Fernando Alonso's third place and teammate Esteban Ocon's fifth in the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix at the Losail International Circuit cemented a superb weekend for the team in their constructors championship fight with AlphaTauri.
Resulting in two-time world champion Alonso's first Formula 1 podium since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix, the upturn in form was initially surprising even for the team, who struggled to explain the reasons behind their brilliant qualifying pace and supreme race pace.
Both cars made it through to Q3 with relative ease - getting through from Q2, on soft tyres, in third and sixth for Alonso and Ocon respectively. The Q3 results saw Alonso up in fifth and Ocon ninth, prior to grid penalties for cars ahead.
In the race both cars drove a similar one-stop strategy which famously turned out to be the riskier choice, but neither car picked up a front-left puncture at any point.
Fernando Alonso got back up onto the F1 podium for the first time since joining and leaving McLaren, winning Le Mans, competing in the Dakar Rally and joining the renamed Alpine team. Image: Alpine F1 Team
In the case of Fernando Alonso, the closing laps of the race saw the broadcast focus in on the Spaniard as others' sudden tyre failures quite rightfully became a cause for concern in the Alpine camp. Arguably the late Virtual Safety Car saved Alonso and Alpine's bacon and secured the popular podium spot in the end.
However Esteban Ocon believes the surprising pace all weekend long was down to the circuit's unique characteristics suiting the A521 down to a tee.
"For sure, the characteristics did suit the car pretty well, so that was a very good surprise when we put the car down, how we felt the grip was working."
An overview of the race as a whole and particularly the tyre blowouts could perhaps point at Alpine's ability to pull off the one-stop strategy being in a car that doesn't easily overstress the front tyres - a more 'lazy' car on turn-in to a corner would be more gentle on its front tyres compared to your competitors.
"I think we did an exceptionally good job at setting up the car, finding little more things that we didn't necessarily find at other places," says Ocon.
"Little tricks here and there that made the difference this weekend to have more pace, to extract more pace out of the car.
"And the tyre management, the strategy that we had in the race, everything was spot on pretty much. The only thing that was not ideal was my Q3 run on Saturday."
Several drivers suffered instant tyre failures in Qatar, first of which was medium-tyre runner Valtteri Bottas
For the past few races, Alpine has been locked in a battle with AlphaTauri for fifth in the constructors championship - going into the Qatar GP absolutely level on points.
Pierre Gasly looked spectacularly quick on Friday and Saturday morning, and the times backed that up too. Teammate Yuki Tsunoda who's struggled to match his teammate all season also put in very competitive times.
But when it came to the race, the AlphaTauri's oddly fell down the order, with Gasly exclaiming how any different strategy woudln't have made any difference to their bizarre Sunday.
The result of which gives Alpine a 25 point advantage going into the final two rounds of the season. The plethora of unknowns surrounding the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia and the heavily revamped Yas Marina Circuit could still swing the championship in either team's favour, but Alpine's race-win-equivalent advantage will be tremendously strenuous to overcome.