It was a strong qualifying for Alpine at Suzuka, with Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso taking fifth and seventh respectively, leaving both drivers impressed with their performance on Saturday, as well as feeling cautiously optimistic about their chances on Sunday.
Ocon will line up in P5, for the fifth time this season, in the same row as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, having qualified 0.861s behind polesitter Max Verstappen. After the session, Ocon was beaming with pride as he recognized the improvements Alpine had made in recent weeks.
“[It’s been a] pretty strong weekend to be honest,” Ocon said. “We have shown that the car was extremely fast. We couldn’t really show it to everyone in Singapore, looking at everything that happened: the rain [and] obviously our DNF.
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“So being back this strong is really confirmation that we’re [heading] in the right direction, we bring the updates that are working. The car was so nice to drive today; I really enjoyed qualifying here and to be in the top five is great.”
Asked if he could hold off Hamilton’s Mercedes and finish fifth in the race, Ocon said: “That’s going to be the target for sure. Us [were] fighting with the Mercs earlier this year; if I remember tracks like Jeddah, they were faster than us.
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“We have updated the car a lot since then, but obviously the aim is to keep them behind. It’s not going to be an easy thing to do, but a lot is going to happen. There will also be some rain in the air, so let’s bring good points for the team tomorrow with both cars.”
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His teammate Fernando Alonso will start on the fourth row, along with George Russell’s other Mercedes. While the Spaniard believes Alpine can compete in any conditions, he remains hopeful of a “chaotic” race at the front that could work to his and the team’s advantage.
“Yes, [it] I felt good,” said Alonso, when asked about Alpine’s qualifying performance. “I think running in the wet was a bit more competitive than in the dry, but also in dry conditions we felt good.
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“And tomorrow, let’s see if we have mixed conditions, that would be ideal. More chaotic in the race is better for us because the people in front are fighting for the World Championship, they can’t take too many risks, but let’s see. I think we are prepared for any condition.”
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With Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo lining up in 10th and 11th respectively, Alonso says keeping both McLarens behind must be Alpine’s “main objective” in their bid for fourth in the constructors’ standings.
“Absolutely. I think that’s our main goal for the rest of the races,” he added. [with] both cars versus both McLarens, so let’s try to score more points tomorrow.”