Ocon’s podium anguish was ‘hard to swallow’

Jon Wilde
Esteban Ocon heads a train of cars during the Saudi Arabian GP. Jeddah December 2021.

Esteban Ocon said his Saudi Arabian Grand Prix podium near miss was “hard to swallow” after being pipped on the run to the line by Valtteri Bottas.

The Frenchman was the surprise winner in Hungary this year and again looked like being a major beneficiary of a chaotic race at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

Starting ninth on the grid, Ocon gradually worked his way up the order as the grand prix stopped and started due to various incidents. Coupled with a ‘deal’ between race director Michael Masi and Red Bull for Max Verstappen to essentially be given a grid penalty at the second race restart, the Alpine driver launched from the front.

Unsurprisingly, Ocon could not keep Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton behind him, but for most of the race he fended off Daniel Ricciardo and Bottas – until the Finn finally and agonisingly got past to snatch third place on the last drag to the chequered flag.

“Don’t push me, I’m going to cry,” Ocon said to Sky F1 after the race. “It’s hard to swallow – the competitor inside me is frustrated and very sad, but if you had told us we would finish fourth I would have been happy.”

He added in conversation with the Formula 1 website: “It’s difficult feelings. We gave it all in that race, clearly. It was a frustrating end, of course, because we had that third place for the whole race and the team did an amazing job.

“The car was spot-on but we are fighting in a different league compared to Mercedes. To lose that third place – I don’t know, 10 seconds from the line? – is very frustrating but it’s the plan, as (team-mate) Fernando (Alonso) would call it.

“We are getting there, we are getting where we want. We extract the maximum out of the car and once we have the pace the others have, we will be dangerous. That’s what we are working towards, so I am extremely proud of all the staff, all the decisions we took. Everything was mega spot-on, but it’s a difficult end obviously.”

 

Ocon said his early progress had been a result of gaining a couple of positions each time the lights went out, plus mishaps that befell rivals such as Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc.

“I was going to take any opportunity I could, for sure,” he added. “There was a lot of contact in that race but in the first two starts I gained four places – each time I got two positions until the last one, where we had a little bit older tyres.

“But I was not fighting against Lewis and Max, I knew that. I let them go and they did their own race, but it was the aim to keep third place and we did until far into the race, so next time…”

 

Planet F1 verdict

 

Final lap heartbreak for Alpine

Esteban Ocon narrowly missed out on a podium in Saudi Arabia.