Fernando Alonso v Esteban Ocon: Retirements and tempers in play at Alpine

Michelle Foster
Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon look at a laptop. Melbourne, April 2022.

Alpine's Esteban Ocon looks at a laptop top whilst Fernando Alonso gestures with his hands. Melbourne, April 2022.

Qualifying: 12-10
Races both finished: 8-7
Points: 81-92

Fernando Alonso won the qualifying battle at Alpine, he finished ahead of Esteban Ocon on more Sundays and he strung together a 10-race streak inside the top 10. And yet he didn’t win the intra-team battle, undone by also topping the team’s retirement count.

The double World Champion went into his second season back on the grid dreaming of champagne celebrations and perhaps even a surprise win, but it was not to be for either Alpine team member with Ocon recording the team’s best result, a P4 in Japan.

There was some consolation as they beat McLaren to ‘best of the rest’ in the championship. But for Alonso it wasn’t enough, nothing was enough except his tally of breakdowns – that was more than enough.

After a rather harmonious relationship between the team-mates in 2021, Hungary their only stand-out battle, Ocon’s pass on the Spaniard in the opening round in Bahrain was a clear indication to Otmar Szafnauer that this season the gloves were off. And rightly so given it was the start of an all-new era of cars and no-one knew what might happen.

A week later they were back at in Saudi Arabia, but this time the battle – and most notably Ocon’s defending – was borderline at best as he pushed his team-mate towards the wall. But it was thrilling for fans, and the Alpine bosses also enjoyed it although pundits were left confused about a wasted opportunity to fight for a better result.

They were at it again in Hungary, Alonso reportedly having told Alpine that morning he’d be leaving at the end of the season, with Ocon nearly putting his team-mate into the wall down the start/finish straight. Having not complained too loudly in Saudi Arabia, this time Alonso hit out: “Never in my life have I seen a defence like Esteban’s. Never.”

But their biggest clash of the season was an actual clash, the two fighting for position at the sprint race in Sao Paulo. With Ocon having forced Alonso wide coming out of Juncao, the Spaniard fought back and hit his team-mate as they approached the pit straight. Neither driver scored that day and Alpine threatened to bench them if didn’t play the team game in future races.

They did in the grand prix, racing their way from the back of the field to P5 and P8 respectively with Alonso ahead. Szafnauer told the world it shows what can happen if they work together but by then it was safe to say Alonso was done.

With two retirements in the first part of the season leading up the summer break, as well as other issues in qualifying, he was 17 points behind Ocon, who had one DNF to his name, as he made his decision not to take up Alpine’s one-year contract offer. Instead, feeling he deserved more, he shocked his Enstone bosses by signing with Aston Martin in a multi-year deal.

Alpine, though, accepted that and all the talk was about ending their relationship on a friendly happy note. How quickly it turned sour. Although Alonso scored more points than Ocon in the final nine races, those came from five top-10 results with the driver retiring from four races.

As those retirements all too often came while he was running inside the points, and all were car related, the up-until-then-diplomatic 41-year-old’s patience wore thin. Given that Ocon had only one non-finish in that same time aggravated the Spaniard further, Alonso declaring “only Car 14” doesn’t finish races.

Ocon defended the team, adamant he had his fair share of problems, while Szafnauer said some times that happens. Not exactly words for encouragement or sympathy for Alonso and after his clash with Ocon in Brazil he proudly – and somewhat angrily – proclaimed “one more race and it’s over – finally!”

The team-mates wrapped up the season with a final double-points haul, one that was enough to ensure the team clinched fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship. But even as they parted ways the jibes were out, Alonso hailing Aston Martin while Ocon told the world he had been doing “98 percent” of the leg work compared to Alonso’s two.

Given the characters in play, neither Ocon nor Alonso being drivers willing to back down or take a knock to keep the peace. The relationship between the two always had the potential to combust, while Alonso’s announcement 2022 would be his last at Alpine gave it the freedom to do so.

But this could be just the start of team-mate wars for the Alpine bosses with Ocon’s former childhood rival, and not in a friendly on-track way but more of an ‘I really don’t like you’ way, Pierre Gasly, replacing Alonso. Good news for Szafnauer: he’s had some experience managing that during his Racing Point days with Ocon and Sergio Perez.

As for Alonso, he’ll partner Lance Stroll next season and it’s a pretty safe bet to say next year he’ll lead the stats in every team-mate battle. He’ll just be crossing his fingers DNFs aren’t on that list.

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