Esteban Ocon survived two hits of the wall to secure P6 on Jeddah grid

Jamie Woodhouse
Esteban Ocon, Alpine, drives close to the wall. Saudi Arabia, March 2023.

Esteban Ocon driving the Alpine A523 close to the wall in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia, March 2023.

Esteban Ocon will slot his Alpine into the P6 grid slot for the Saudi Arabian GP, an achievement which came after utilising every inch of the Jeddah track, and more…

Alpine came to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit looking for answers on the true pace that resides within their A523 challenger, following quite the horror show at the Bahrain season-opener, in Ocon’s case especially after he lost 20 seconds in time penalties across the race.

And it turns out that the A523 can be rather mighty when used properly, Ocon delivering on the promise which the team had shown through free practice by setting the seventh-fastest time of Q3, which thanks to a 10-place grid drop for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, promoted Ocon to P6.

The Frenchman’s best time put him eight-tenths down on Red Bull’s Sergio Perez who took pole, marking a very solid effort from Ocon.

But, at several points this brilliant lap all so nearly ended in disaster, Ocon revealing post-qualifying that he had twice hit the walls that closely line the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, and could not quite believe that he got away without session-ending damage.

“I’m still breathing in and taking my breath because it’s been a very stressful qualifying,” he told reporters.

“The margins are so small and the amount of pushing and risk you have to take around here, it’s pretty impressive.

“I hit the wall twice on my fastest lap, in Turn 1 and in the last corner. I thought that was it, I thought I broke something.

“I kept pedal to the metal, thinking it would have been okay. I still improved… it was probably the maximum.

“I was happy with the lap, happy with how we improved the car from FP3 to [qualifying] because FP3 didn’t feel right and the way we want it. I hope we can give a good fight to the other cars tomorrow.” recommends

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Still, Ocon will be hoping that the “close calls” are now behind him as he has already had enough of these in Jeddah, revealing that these latest heart-in-the-mouth moments followed one in FP3 where he thought he was heading for a major shunt like the one that Mick Schumacher had in the Haas here last year.

“There were corners where the car was a little bit more tricky than others,” he said.

“I could not feel my confidence; I had to disconnect in a way and just go as fast as I could. [The car] was moving all around. It’s been moving for the last two days, really.

“I’m happy qualifying is behind us. The car has been floating in high speed. There was a lot of movement and I got too many close calls this weekend.

“In FP3 I had a big one. It was very close to Mick last year, and like I did also last year and in quali again.

“It’s time to push the limits and it’s normal you get close but it was pushed a little bit too far.”

There will be two Alpines starting in the top 10 on Sunday, Pierre Gasly having secured P9 on the grid, though unlike his team-mate, he felt that he had not managed to extract all the pace which the A523 had to offer.

“It’s been a tough afternoon I’m not going to lie,” he said. “Just couldn’t really switch on the tyres and get everything working together.

“I mean still pleased to be in Q3, but just could not extract everything from the car, so some more work to do, but we start P9 tomorrow so still a decent place to be in and we will try to make our way up.”