Fernando Alonso hoped Alpine’s sudden improvement would generate a solid qualifying showing at Portimao, but for him those plans went downhill fast.
After featuring comfortably within the top 10 on Friday, the final practice session was not ideal for Alonso who finished down in P14 – but ahead, in P5, his team-mate Esteban Ocon was demonstrating the performance within the A521.
Qualifying though did not bring a change of fortunes for the Spaniard, who was forced to settle for P13 on the grid while Ocon is dreaming of the race start ahead from P6.
Alonso said he had lost eight tenths of a second between FP3 and qualifying, leaving him “annoyed” with the performance.
“It was a good weekend in general, but then in qualifying unfortunately we lost a lot of grip,” he told reporters.
“I was a little bit annoyed that we lost eight tenths of a second between FP3 and qualifying, even with less fuel in qualifying, so there is something to understand a little bit better.
“I felt the car had no grip in qualifying, unfortunately. But anyway, the race is tomorrow, qualifying is just the starting position and the points are given on Sundays.
“So outside of the top 10 you can choose the tyres to start the race on and hopefully that can give us an advantage.
“The target is to get some points tomorrow. We still have a chance with the starting position and the free choice of tyres, but every race hopefully we get better and better and understand more about the car and the tyres.”
— Alpine F1 Team (@AlpineF1Team) May 1, 2021
Understandably, there were only beaming smiles on Ocon’s side of the garage. The Frenchman praised his Alpine colleagues for their “dedication” which he felt was the dominant factor behind their return to form in the midfield.
“Feeling good, it’s fantastic to be able to get back to those positions, so close to the top five as well,” he said.
“Thanks to the team because they kept working hard, the dedication, and it made the difference today. A huge step with the car from yesterday to today and we keep on searching and digging to find what the car is capable of.
“It will be a tight race but we are starting up there, so I’ll take that for tonight already. Some cars will start on the medium tyres, some on the softs, so it will be an interesting race, but we take the benefit from starting near the front.”
Ocon said he was not sure exactly what had clicked for Alpine between Imola and Portimao, but believes the team can maintain their form throughout the rest of the season.
“I think we can keep that progress going forwards. Some of the changes we have done are circuit-specific but I’m pretty sure we can keep that pace for the whole year,” he said.
“I can’t really put my hand on it, but that is the aim.”