Szafnauer: “We still don’t know it’s true pace” after Bahrain Grand Prix

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A messy Bahrain Grand Prix weekend for Alpine makes it difficult to gauge their pace relative to the other midfield team’s. Szafnauer admits “operational issues” played a role in their Sunday woes, but the team has a plan in place however, to prevent any further issues.

Otmar Szafnauer

After a mixed weekend in Bahrain from Alpine, with Pierre Gasly struggling in qualifying before improving to P9 on Sunday as well as a string of penalties for Esteban Ocon, the team is unable to accurately gauge their true pace.

Both drivers suffered issues during the weekend, with Gasly starting last on Sunday following a mistake in Q1 and Ocon struck with penalties from the beginning of the Grand Prix, dashing his hopes at a points finish. Gasly’s race pace did however show glimpses of the A523’s potential, improving from last to a points finish.

“I still don’t know where we are relative…”

Team principal Otmar Szafnauer admits the team’s issues make it very difficult to understand their actual place in the pecking order in what is a very tight midfield battle. He remains positive however, saying he believes the team are close to their targets.

“We still don’t know it’s true pace because of some of the operational things that happened in the race,” Szafnauer said. “Esteban had all of his issues that we talked about, Pierre was stuck in 19th for quite some time at the beginning.

“I’m looking at lap times and if you ever watch a race between the guys up front and the guys at the back, [in the same car] you can be two seconds a lap different just because of where you’re racing.

“So, I still don’t know where we are relative just because we’re out of position with one car and the other car had the problems we talked about. I don’t think we’re far off.”

“We just need to out-develop them…”

He went on to suggest the team’s goal is to out-develop their rivals, and he believes the French marque are capable of taking home a solid points haul this season by way of alleviating the issues which impacted them in Bahrain. He went sofaras to suggest the team is in the fight for P4 in the constructors’ championship this season.

“I think we were about 16 seconds behind Bottas at that point, and we caught him but couldn’t overtake in the end. So I think that stint worked well,” Szafnauer said. “Looking at it from an optimistic standpoint and say if Pierre had started ninth, we would have beaten Bottas for sure. How close would we have been to the Mercedes and I think [Lance] Stroll? They were 16 seconds ahead of us, we need to have a look.

“Now we just need to out-develop them so we can close a gap to those guys we want to beat.

“Esteban being out of position at the start, he’ll learn from that. Operationally, we can look forward to having smooth, trouble-free races. And if that happens, Pierre qualifies where he can qualify and we’ve got both of them in the top 10 positions, then I think we’ll score plenty of points and then we’ll fight for fourth.”

Esteban Ocon at the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix
Photo: @AlpineF1Team on twitter

“Half a second isn’t going to kill us.”

Szafnauer also elaborated on the operational issues which all but destroyed Ocon’s race. The Frenchman started from slightly outside of his grid position, netting him a five second penalty. His luck went from bad to worse however, when he served this penalty during his pitstop.

One of the Alpine mechanics began working on the car 0.4s too soon, which earned Ocon another ten second penalty. Szafnauer explained this misstep was caused by the team’s system to alert the mechanics when a penalty has elapsed. He also offered a solution of building in an offset to prevent this issue from recurring.

“It (the fault) is sitting in the system somewhere,” Szafnauer explained. “We have an audible countdown and the system started the countdown point four seconds early, so we have to look to see why that happened.

“We should just put an offset in it (the system) so it starts to count down a half second late. Half a second isn’t going to kill us.”