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Alpine F1 Team

Ocon and Gasly engaged in 'hidden' battle for Alpine supremacy

Alpine has one of the most evenly-matched driver line-ups in F1, but with the no man's land it finds itself in, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly might find they have no-one to fight but each other.

Gasly Ocon Miami
Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

Between Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, Alpine has one of the most balanced driver pairings on the F1 grid. Last season, there was almost nothing to separate the two Frenchmen.

In F1, they say the first person you have to beat is your team-mate. They are, after all, the ultimate benchmark. Same environment, same resources, same car. There is no closer point of comparison.

There is, also, often talk of one-two driver pairings; line-ups skewed in the favour of one, with things set up around the preference driver - who is, in turn, expected to carry the team and score the bulk of the its points.

However, this philosophy generally only applies to the top teams - those fighting to win championships. Think Red Bull. For everyone else, they just want the strongest pairing possible. This approach can lead to fairly equal driver pairings, but perhaps not as much as you might think. 

Looking at the points tallies from 2023 - which is by no means the be-all-end-all team-mate comparison metric, but it does provide a pretty good indicator - Williams had the most lopsided line-up, with Alex Albon scoring 27 of its 28 points, or over 96 percent of them.

One the other end of the spectrum, Ferrari's 406 points last term were split almost completely evenly between Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. The Monegasque driver took 206, to the Spaniards 200. In other words, 50.7 percent to 49.3. 

However, the Italian team opted to upgrade its line-up, by way of Lewis Hamilton, so any talk of balance at the Scuderia is perhaps a moot point - when push came to shove, Sainz was evidently the number two.

51.7 percent to 48.3

The next closely-matched pairing was, indeed, at Alpine, where Ocon took 62 points of the team's 120, otherwise understood as 51.7 percent to Gasly's 48.3.

This year, it appears to be more of the same. Whilst the French squad has regressed considerably in real performance terms, its two drivers are as equal as ever.

Ocon took Team Enstone's first point of the season in Miami, but had the safety car not landed as it did, Gasly would have been the one opening his account for the year.

After the race, he told media including RacingNews365 that had it not been for the safety car intervention - which benefitted Ocon and others running long - he could have been on for "between eighth and tenth" place.

Ocon has enjoyed the upper hand in qualifying, but the duo tend to converge during the race - and had Gasly not out-performed his team-mate in the Miami grid-setting session, he would have been the one on the longer, option strategy that helped earn Ocon a point.

Rivalry resumed

The two drivers are known to have had a fraught relationship in the past, something that was highlighted when Gasly joined Ocon at Alpine at the start of 2023. 

That friction has broadly been set aside, as the team looks to recover from its dismal start to the season. However, with the signs of progress and faint promise of resurgence, might too the tensions of yesteryear return?

Their rivalry came somewhat to a head at last season's Australian Grand Prix. During the chaotic closing stages, the pair collided at the first safety car restart, putting both into retirement and scuppering the chance of a double points finish.

However, the pair arguably co-existed better than anticipated, working towards a shared goal of getting Alpine back into the top five in the constructors' standings. That did not happen, and a change in philosophy over the winter put the French team on the back foot it now finds itself on.

Therein lies the spark to a potential resumption of the hostilities between the pair. It is less likely for team-mates to come to blows when there is a bigger battle to be won. In Alpine's case, that was taking the fight to the likes of Aston Martin and McLaren in the midfield.

But now, with F1 squared divided into two tiers of five teams, the best Alpine can hope for is to retain its sixth place - and even that is looking unlikely, given its start to the year.

So the rivalry between Ocon and Gasly might descend into a fight amongst themselves. There is always the next opportunity to be won in F1, or the bigger contract to be signed. With a lack of clear goal, or rather, an unlikelihood or reaching it, the focus will shift towards what the other driver is doing and how they can be beaten.

Alpine might not be playing for much this season, but it is doubtful its two drivers will see it that way. And so, if you are looking for a tension-filled intra-team fight this season, the battle for supremacy at Alpine might just be it.

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