The Alpine Kings: Ocon and Alonso shine in drastic Hungarian Grand Prix
How the duo of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon worked hard and secured Alpine's first F1 win.
Some would call it luck. Some good judgement. You could call it anything you saw fit, but the wet slippy surface that awaited the drivers at the start of the race was bound to cause chaos, and it was definitely good luck and judgement for those who picked their way through the mess that was the first corner of the Hungarian Grand Prix. With big names such as Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc out at the first turn, there was a possibility to make something big from the race, and that's exactly what Alpine did.
Luckily, Alpine was one of only four teams to get both cars through the chaos and red flag to restart the race 30 minutes later. Ocon had found his way around the multiple accidents and found himself in second while Alonso was now in seventh place. Seventh place soon became sixth after the most bizarre of restarts occurred. A standing start was the call from race control due to the circuit drying out considerably during the red flag period, and on the second formation lap, every car apart from leader Lewis Hamilton took to the pit lane, leaving only the Mercedes to take the start from the grid.
With Mercedes making a poor call and having to come back into the pits to change to dry tires, Alonso jumped up a position and set after the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz. A much longer stint on the medium tyres allowed Fernando to re-join after his stop behind Sainz but with much fresher hard compound tyres. Trying to catch the Ferrari would not be the problem however, it would be the Mercedes of Hamilton behind, who was on a charge after opting for a two-stop strategy and fightback much like race and victory against Max Verstappen in 2019.
Fernando Alonso was in fighting form on Sunday. (FIA.)
Alonso, having turned 40 the previous Friday, was in no mood to let the much quicker Mercedes by into fifth position, and what resulted in the next handful of laps was an astonishing defence from Alonso when Hamilton consistently attacked the Alpine through the first sector. It was a classic battle of two of F1's most revered drivers, but one Fernando used to ultimately hold up the driver that could threaten teammate Esteban Ocon's chances at a first victory in F1. He later noted that he was also thinking of Verstappen, Hamilton's current title contender, and how delaying Hamilton could help his potential championship recovery after a poor race, having got caught up in the turn one shunt. For his efforts, he was awarded Driver of the Day at the end of the race.
Speaking of Ocon, the young Frenchman wasn't doing too badly for himself. Like Alonso, Ocon moved up a position thanks to Mercedes' tyre blunder at the restart, and was now leading the race ahead of Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel. Despite attempts to wrestle the lead from the Alpine after a quick out lap as well as using lapped cars, Vettel could not get by. As Hamilton had now squeezed past both Alonso and Sainz, he began to close the gap to Vettel.
Ocon held his nerve in the first lap chaos and crazy restart, and was soon leading the race. (FIA,)
The time spent behind Alonso in the closing laps would prove crucial, as Hamilton would have to settle for third, being unable to catch Ocon and Vettel in front. An elated Ocon was left to take his first Grand Prix victory, the first for a French driver in a French car since Alain Prost in Austria in 1983, with Renault. It was also Renault's first victory since it's full time return to F1 in 2016, coming off the back of three podiums in 2020 curtesy of Ocon and former driver Daniel Ricciardo.
It was the most bizarre of Grands Prix. One which even saw George Russell score points for Williams, but in the most George Russell way possible, was outscored by teammate Nicholas Latifi a place above in eighth. Despite an investigation after the race, Ocon kept his victory, but Vettel would be forced to relinquish second place, after being disqualified by the stewards for failing to provide the mandatory post-race 1-litre fuel sample after the race. In turn, each driver moved up a position behind Ocon, with Sainz now taking third and Alonso fourth. Kimi Raikkonen was then promoted into the final position in tenth, earning another point for Alfa Romeo.
A race to remember for Alpine. (Alpine Racing Media.)
When all was said and done, it was a dream day for Alpine. An incredible first victory for Ocon, a driver who, despite signing a recent multi-year deal with the team, was struggling to improve his pace throughout the season. It proved he can do it, it proved he is up for the fight in 2022 should the team be closer in the new era of regulations, and that he does have the skill and speed necessary. Coincidentally, Ocon took his first F1 victory for the same team on the same circuit as his teammate Alonso did 18 years ago.
As for Alonso, many doubted, including me, his possible return to F1, but didn't expect the difference in him. The difference in overall character and mood. He's returned more relaxed and easygoing, and as a driver that can still perform at the very top as we definitely saw in his defending from Hamilton. Should Alpine be one of those teams to strike gold with the regulations and be up there, could these two be a dark horse pairing in the coming season? A proven winner and boosted confidence in Ocon and a heart of experience and skill from Alonso, sounds very tasty indeed!