Ocon has “admiration” for McLaren’s remarkable F1 2023 turnaround

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At this point in the 2022 season, Alpine was battling for fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship with McLaren.

But this time around, the French team will have to settle for sixth place. This change can be attributed to a number of reasons, but it may be easier to understand by listening to someone inside the team.

Photo credit: BWT Alpine F1 Team

Esteban Ocon started at the beginning, when the drivers don’t have access to the cars, the only opportunity they have to “test” the car is in the simulator.

The Frenchman implied that the simulators are not perfect as he gets ready for 2024. But it’s the only option before getting a completely representative feeling when he gets in the car for the first time at a shakedown or pre-season testing.

“I guess it’s never perfect. There can be some issues at times. We’ve experienced that, I would say especially with the new cars last year. But that’s the only tool we have. We have to trust it as much as possible because we can’t test. That’s the only representative feeling I am going to have with the car until you get to test it in Silverstone, Barcelona or wherever.”

The Evreux native seems to be aware that, since he joined Renault in 2020, which would become Alpine in 2021, the Enstone-based team has remained at a fairly similar level throughout the last four years, even though he believes there have been many improvements not only from the French team.

Ocon accepted that no matter how much the team improves, if the car is not good enough to improve further, then they are stuck.

“It’s for a lot of different reasons. There are things that we have improved. I was going through the list of that when I joined the team and how many things I thought we needed to tackle. There was a huge list, obviously. I was going through it again and ‘that’s ticked, that’s ticked, that’s ticked’.

“We’ve improved a lot in many aspects, but that really shows how much the other teams are also working and also improving, which is frustrating because I think we are going in the right direction. But the others have probably done better making sudden steps forward.

“In the end you can try and improve as much as you can, [but] as long as you don’t have the car to exploit that, that’s it. You’re stuck with the pace that you’ve got.”

The 27-year-old added that the best thing to do on these occasions is to be positive and assured that the team has done an excellent job and that, as soon as they have a car that is initially faster, they will be ready.

Alpine have shown their ability to grab a result when the door opened twice this season. Ocon finished P3 in Monaco in mixed conditions. His teammate and fellow Frenchman Pierre Gasly repeated the trick at Zandvoort.

“The best thing you can do is take the opportunities when they come. We’ve done that quite well as a team. That’s been quite good. We just need a car that is quicker initially. Then when we exploit it on track, we’ll be set and ready.”

The Frenchman accepts that McLaren have done an incredible job to overhaul them this year. At the beginning of the season the car was very bad and well off the pace. The Woking-based squad is consistently the second fastest car on race weekends these days.

Ocon has said he is not jealous and is full of praise for McLaren. He is sure that if they can do it, Alpine can do it too.

“There’s no jealousy or like ‘oh s***, they’ve done a really good job’. To me it’s more like ‘they’ve done it, so it is possible to be doing that’.

“Fair play — I have admiration for the work they have done. It is possible to get out of the midfield because they’ve done so. Why not us [as well].”

Heading into the Las Vegas Grand Prix and with only two races remaining in the season, with 62 and 46 points respectively, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon have put the Enstone-based team 153 points behind Aston Martin, which means they will no longer be able to challenge for fifth place, at least not in 2023.