Get ready for a new dynamic at Alpine

The opening lap of the Monaco Grand Prix was going to be the catalyst for plenty of focus around the Alpine drivers, but the events of the past 24 hours have only served to increase that.

Every time I watch Esteban Ocon’s move on Pierre Gasly into Portier, I have a conflicted reaction. It’s actually a very good attempt at a pass given the challenges of Monaco and the fact a single point could well have hinged on pulling it off. And he’s very nearly successful.

If Ocon can control his speed better on the exit he might stop his car from running into Gasly’s, ending his own race in the process. And if that was two drivers from different teams fighting over the final spot in the top 10, it would be completely worth the gamble.


But that is not what the situation was, even just on the surface. It was not worth the risk against your teammate because, as close to being successful as Ocon was, the likely outcome is the one he got. One of the cars out of the race, and had there not been a red flag then potentially both out of the points.

After that, it didn’t take long for the further layer of team orders to be added, with team principal Bruno Famin making it very clear that the drivers had been told in no uncertain terms that qualifying would be crucial and that the lead car on Saturday would get the support of the second car during the race to help Alpine try and score a point.

A point that would double the team’s tally for the season after such a difficult start to the year, don’t forget.

So it was far less about the move itself, but the fact that Ocon decided to make it just a few corners into a race he and Gasly had very clear instructions for.

Plus, it wasn’t even the first time they’d made contact on that opening lap; the pair having banged wheels at Mirabeau at the top of the hill. Once again the two of them appeared to be just the wrong side of the line on more than one occasion.

And I use the term “the two of them” because you’ve always got to factor in the other car, and whether better decisions could have been made in the split second the two drivers have out on track.

But it is fair to say that there have been multiple occasions where Ocon has been involved in incidents with his teammates in the past, and it highlights a weakness of his.

Before we get onto those, though, let’s focus on his strengths and why his departure from Alpine at the end of this season is a big deal. Ocon gave the team its only win under the Alpine banner back in 2021, not putting a wheel wrong when under race-long pressure from Sebastian Vettel at the Hungaroring.

Ocon’s aggressive approach has occasionally come at a cost to his team – and now that he’s leaving Alpine, the team’s interests could be less of a priority to the Frenchman over their remaining races together. Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images

He also took full advantage of his opportunity in Monaco a year before to grab a spot on the podium, following his first podium in that crazy race won by Sergio Perez on the Sakhir outer loop circuit back in 2020.

Ocon’s very quick, and it is to his credit that he can list a number of high-quality opponents that he has regularly matched in the same machinery.

“I have been lucky to race alongside talented and experienced teammates, including race-winners Daniel [Ricciardo], Checo and Pierre, and a double champion in Fernando [Alonso],” he wrote this week. “As teammates, we would often start races very close to each other which in some cases meant some tough battles on track, and sometimes contact.”

But take each of those drivers in isolation and compare their incidents with other teammates in different teams with those with Ocon, and the trend is that they’re more likely to happen with the Frenchman.

It would be wrong to ignore Ocon’s point about where they tend to start, too – Ricciardo had years where he was rarely near Lando Norris, Gasly and Perez the same in their spells alongside Max Verstappen, and Alonso has tended to be the lead car in teams for the majority of his career – so the likelihood of being together on track is naturally higher. And you could pick out multiple moments between the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers in the past 12 months that show it’s almost inevitable.

But, fairly or unfairly, Ocon’s got a reputation that he needs to shake on that front. Even when there isn’t contact or the two cars escape unscathed, Ocon can be guilty of racing his teammate just that bit too hard, and allow his aggressive approach to override the bigger team picture.

It’s a very fine line, but it leads to the impression that the 27-year-old can be tricky to manage when it comes to his approach to a teammate. And it was a factor that was brought up whenever he was linked with a Mercedes seat in the past, so even bigger opportunities have potentially passed him by because of it.

Now he enters a new phase where he likely has a next move already lined up – or at least close to being finalized – and has less of a need to prioritize Alpine over what he feels is best for himself. Gasly, on the other hand, could still end up staying with the team beyond 2024 and will have a different outlook on certain matters.

Famin’s comments in Monaco that there would be consequences for Ocon after the opening lap incident might well have meant an acceleration in the direction of travel towards a split for both sides, but it’s not a case of Alpine making a decision based on the last race, nor Ocon the same. So in some ways, the consequences are quite inconsequential.

It will become a harder situation to manage the longer the season goes on and Alpine finds itself in high-pressure situations trying to score points. Ocon is not the kind of driver to back off and cruise to the end of his time with the team, and certainly not if he’s faced with the (admittedly unlikely) scenario of still needing to earn his next seat.

He’s also good enough to be regularly in a position to fight for the team’s best result each weekend, all adding up to more potential situations where the two cars are fighting for the same piece of tarmac.

It’s usually a good problem to have if your drivers keep it largely clean, but with Ocon leaving at the end of the year and no real need to change his style, how he and Gasly approach any future scenarios will be worth watching.

Story originally appeared on Racer