Esteban Ocon is still flying high on his cloud after scoring a sensational podium finish on merit for Alpine in Monaco.
There is perhaps no other stop on the calendar which can allow drivers to make the key difference like Monaco can, these tight and technical streets demanding expert precision, commitment and a huge amount of bravery.
And Ocon showed that he had all of that in plentiful supply by setting the fourth-fastest time of qualifying, within two-tenths of Red Bull’s polesitter Max Verstappen, securing himself P3 on the grid when Charles Leclerc received a three-place grid drop.
Ocon would then back that up with another solid display on race day, seeing off the threats of Carlos Sainz and later Lewis Hamilton when wet weather set in to convert that grid slot into a P3 finish.
That then marked Ocon’s third career podium and first visit since he won the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix. He also became the first Frenchman to take to the Monaco podium since Olivier Panis did so in 1996.
“It’s been a while, feels good, I can tell you that! I’m speechless at the moment. I’m a little bit on my cloud still,” Ocon reflected when speaking to media post-race.
“You know, before the weekend, if you told us that we are going to be in the top 10, we would have been happy. It would have been a strong weekend. But we are not in the top 10, we are not in the top five, we are on the podium this weekend here in Monaco. And yeah, that shows really that never stopped believing.
“You know, we had a difficult start to the season but from the first session, I felt strong in the car, felt confident at the wheel. I was able to push, session after sessions, closer to the limit than I’m usually doing in Monaco. And, and yeah, I mean, that allowed me to do the lap I did yesterday, which is obviously 90 per cent of the job – normally – in Monaco.
“But it was not really the case today! Today has been a little bit of a harder race. We hold that podium for a while, we had it secure but you know, I got a touch from Carlos at one stage, got damage on the on the back of the car. And then the rain shuffled everything again, and we had to choose to take the inters at the right time. And we did so.
“And from there on I was under a huge amount of pressure from Lewis. We seem to be always the two fighting together when the conditions are like that! So yeah, we know each other well in those conditions.
“And yeah, until the last lap, he was pushing flat-out. He was quicker in the wet section from [Turn] Five to Eight, and I was quicker on the dry sections. But yeah, it’s been an incredibly tough race to get under control but the reward is immense. So, I’m extremely pleased.”
Usually taking his time to start testing the limits of the Monaco track, Ocon had a “very different” weekend this time as he soon found the confidence to get right up to those walls, setting him up for the ideal Monaco showing.
The team then will revel in the glory of this podium, and then focus will switch to next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, a more typical racing track where Ocon says Alpine will find out “where we are exactly”.
Asked if the pace of the Alpine A523 in Monaco surprised him, Ocon replied: “Yeah, I have been. I think, as soon as we put it down from the simulator days, really to all the practice sessions, we’ve been improving step-by-step and never stopping doing it.
“And it’s been a very different weekend compared to my usual Monaco weekends, where I was not afraid to go close to the walls very early. And that’s what we’ve done.
“And yeah, extremely surprised us for sure. I think we should keep feet to the ground at the moment. Obviously, we’re on the podium here, we will enjoy all together. And yeah, I want to thank all the team, obviously Enstone, Viry, the team on-site here. That podium, not win, not yet! That podium is all for them.
“But yeah, Barcelona is going to be a very different characteristic. A track that everyone knows and a good test for us to see where we are exactly.”
With Ocon’s team-mate Pierre Gasly crossing the line P7, it allowed Alpine to snatch the P5 spot from McLaren in the Constructors’ standings.