Expected to be Alpine’s team leader next season after Fernando Alonso ditched the team, Otmar Szafnauer says Esteban Ocon’s only weakness is that he needs to get up to speed faster on grand prix weekends.
Ocon is, as the situation stands, Alpine’s team leader for next season after Alonso rejected the team’s offer of a one-year deal in favour of a multi-year contract with Aston Martin.
It is not yet known who will be the Frenchman’s team-mate – Oscar Piastri, Daniel Ricciardo or even someone else – but as the driver who has been with Alpine the longest, he’ll have to step up.
Szafnauer believes he is capable of being the team leader, calling the former Racing Point driver a “super talent”, but concedes he still have a few things to learn.
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“Esteban is a super talent,” Szafnauer said. “I worked with him at Force India and those were the days of Sergio Perez as his team-mate.
“And he was as quick as Sergio and raced Sergio hard, and if you remember those days, they were always together on the grid. And sometimes they even came together in the races! And we see what Sergio is capable of.
“With Fernando too, although Fernando’s got the skill and the talent to get a lap out of the car very quickly.
“He needs three or four laps and he’s at 99%, or 99.9%, and that extra 0.1% comes with a few laps more, if you know what I mean, whereas Esteban takes a little bit more time to get the maximum out of the car.
“But ultimately, on Saturday, and then Sunday, he’s there. So he needs to learn a little bit to get there a bit faster. But we’re working with him on that.”
Pressed as to whether the 25-year-old, who will contest his sixth full season in F1 next year, can take up the number one role, Szafnauer said: “For sure he’s getting better and better.
“He’s got a race win under his belt. He’s scored good points for us this year. And he’ll learn more by the time we get to next year.”
Ocon is 17 points ahead of Alonso in this year’s Drivers’ Championship with a best result of P5 at the Austrian Grand Prix.
The Frenchman, like the rest of F1, is waiting to learn who will be his 2023 team-mate.
With Alonso leaving, Alpine believed they have a back-up option in Piastri only to find themselves in the midst of a contract saga involving the 21-year-old Australian and McLaren.
There is speculation that outcome could be a swap with Ricciardo, the Aussie rejoining the Enstone team and Piastri free to race for McLaren.