Marks of the winner of the closest intra-team battle in Formula 1

Marks of the winner of the closest intra-team battle in Formula 1

Over the last three Formula 1 races, Pierre Gasly’s post-race judgments have stuck to a familiar theme, variously saying “best weekend so far this year”, “definitely our best momentum” and “one of the best performances”.

Those comments describing sixth place (Austin), 11th place (Mexico), and seventh place (Brazil) tell you all you need to know about Alpine’s current mediocrity.

But within the confines of the car, Gasly has put together the most convincing 2023 of his career.

He and teammate Esteban Ocon have been one of the most closely matched drivers this season, but there are signs that Gasly is starting to get the upper hand. It is still close and it would be too early to announce it on the top of the Alps ShaneBut the pendulum swung during the second half of the season.

Over the 12 weekends leading up to the August break, the battle between the pair swung back and forth but Ocon had the statistical advantage. He was eight hundredths of a second faster on average in qualifying, and achieved the team’s best result of third in Monaco, earning 35 points to Gasly’s 22.

In the eight events after the break, Gasly led with an average qualifying advantage of 0.146 seconds, added his own podium finish at Zandvoort (below), and scored 40 points to Ocon’s 11. This means that he now leads by 16 points. Although a disappointing Alpine season meant their battle went beyond just 11th place in the championship.

During the three races, Gasly had particularly strong weekends in Austin and Brazil, while in Mexico safety car timing meant it was Ocon who took the points instead.

Gasly, who joined Alpine this year after spending his entire F1 career with Red Bull, mostly with Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri, believes this is down to the strides he has made in his integration with the team.

“I mentioned at the beginning of the year adapting, it’s taken a while to really feel like after every weekend we’re getting the maximum out of the package,” Gasly said when asked by The Race about his performance in a racing context. Battle with Ocon.

“It’s quite normal coming to a new team (to take some time to adapt) to the way it will work, the information I get, understanding the balance of the car (which I need), and the settings. On top of that, you have fast weekends where you only have P1.

“It makes it very difficult for a newcomer within the team, immediately putting everything together as a team. Even Spa, I felt as a team we left a bit of a performance there, and obviously there was some bad luck on top of that, as it wasn’t The beginning of the season.

“Since our return to Zandvoort, I’ve been in a much happier place in terms of the way we execute, in terms of the approach and the efficiency with which we bring (together) as a team. We’re getting more out of ourselves, we’re making fewer mistakes and things are getting a little better.

“I knew coming (to be a teammate) with Esteban after four years of being on the team with similar engineers where the language was easier and more fluid (it would be difficult). Now I’m really starting to get that kind of feeling with my team.

“So it’s going in the right direction. Since we came back from the summer break, it’s become clear for me to become more consistent and perform at the level we should have been able to achieve, but we couldn’t really achieve it at the beginning of the year for various reasons.

For his part, Ocon was frustrated, saying after qualifying for the Brazilian Sprint – in which he collided with Fernando Alonso – that the conditions were against him and made it difficult in terms of “improving everything”.

While he picked up a point for finishing 10th in the Grand Prix, he was frustrated as a clutch problem on the restart combined with accelerated tire wear that left him the only driver to run a three-stop race made it a difficult afternoon.

“No, I think obviously I was unlucky at times with the DNFs and unfortunately it cost us and it cost me the Drivers’ Championship,” Ocon said when asked if the momentum in the battle within the team had changed.

“But that’s the way it is. Sometimes you get through your season with very few (problems), sometimes you get it with more. And this year we got it more. But there are still two races to go, so we’ll see where we finish.”

The dynamism within the Alps is fantastic. Gasly and Ocon are rarely apart, and they have a checkered history, although they have been keen to present a united and cooperative front since becoming Formula 1 teammates at the start of the season. As with any pair of drivers, the battle is fierce as each is determined to assert himself as the spearhead of the team. Neither of them has done so yet.

Gasly has worked closely with the team and appears to have come closer to the kind of car balance he wants. The 27-year-old thrives when he has a car that allows him to brake late and attack corners, but he needs the back end to be responsive enough when cornering but not so unstable that he has the confidence to do so. When he has that, he’s very fast.

Working with the team seemed to have helped him get closer to the car he needed, and he combined that with some good performances in the race, particularly in Brazil, where he managed to get the best result on the table for modest machinery.

This came after a period in which he appeared to get lost in the preparation process during testing in Singapore and Japan, something he later explained as some experimental guidance aimed at improving the knowledge base for the 2024 car.

Overall, there is still a lot to choose between Gasly and Ocon, so the battle for supremacy will continue next year. But it is encouraging for Gasly that he was able to progress in the second half of the year.

Naturally, Okon will point to bad luck as a tarnish, and he is a determined and ruthless agent enough to find ways to fight back. But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that just as Ocon was on top in the first half of the year, Gasly has surged forward since then.

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