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Ocon exclusive: Alpine delivered in key areas in 2022

In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com, Alpine's Esteban Ocon reveals how the team hit key targets in 2022 as it laid new foundations to challenge the top teams.

From one season to the next, one thing all Formula 1 drivers want to see is progress. Even if you are Max Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton and challenging for wins and titles on a regular basis, you need to see the team pushing to strain those last precious few drops of performance from your package as it might make all the difference come the final chequered flag of the season. For midfield runners with ambitions of shattering the vice-like grip Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have over both championships, progress is marked slightly differently. Gone are those wins - and at the very least the expectations of a podium every race - to be replaced with the hopes of reducing the gap to the top three teams. At the very least the 'midfielders' aim for improvements in results to be the fourth-best team on the grid, allowing them to be in pole position to snag a podium if the 'big' teams have an off day. This was the position that Esteban Ocon and Alpine found themselves in during the 2022 season. Sure, there was no headlining-grabbing Grand Prix victory as at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix, but that was a freak set of circumstances that allowed Ocon to expertly defend from Sebastian Vettel for the majority of the race. Instead, Ocon led Alpine to fourth in the Constructors' standings with his best-ever season in F1, and he will be joined by Pierre Gasly for 2023 after Fernando Alonso elected to switch from Alpine to Aston Martin. In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com , Ocon believes the progress he has seen throughout the campaign is promising as Alpine look to get themselves into the mix.

Ocon pleased with upgrades from Alpine

One thing the Enstone-entity has struggled with in recent years is the inability to develop a car and take big strides forward with each major package. For example, in 2019 the team, then badged as Renault, introduced a long-anticipated extensive upgrade package, claimed to be worth 0.5s per lap, at the French Grand Prix. It featured a new front wing, bargeboards, floor, and nose section but did not prove anywhere near the hoped for reduction in lap-time with the team scoring just 16 points in the six races after it was introduced. But the improvement shown in 2022 has stood out to Ocon. "It's been a decent season on a personal level - and from the team's perspective as well," he explained when RacingNews365.com sat down with him in Abu Dhabi. "Very early on, we didn't start where we wanted to be. "We were behind the Haas and Alfa Romeo cars, and our car was not working at its best. "I quickly found out where the issues were, and we told the team about it, and they managed to translate that into upgrades which really helped. "With that understanding and at the same time of putting upgrades in, I really feel like I've stepped up. "I felt very much at one [with the car] in a lot of races, and getting the maximum out of it on some weekends and scoring some big points like fourth or fifth. "Weekends like Austria, like Suzuka and Budapest all felt very strong."

Alpine targeting pace over reliability

The biggest stumbling block to Ocon and Alpine achieving more in 2023 is that of reliability, given the patchy record of the A522 machine of '22. While this was a calculated decision from Alpine to make performance the number one priority and worry about reliability second, it did lead to some public frustrations on the other side of the garage to Ocon. Alonso is never one to leave ambiguity in what he thinks, and multiple failures on his side left the Spaniard less than chipper, but it is not something that Ocon is concerned about when the potential rewards are weighed against the risks. "It was always the strategy of the team to have a quick engine to have a competitive and pushy car, [as opposed] to finishing races at the back," he explained. "That was the aim because [engine development] regulations are frozen, and we wanted to push from the beginning, and that obviously poses reliability issues. "So, we knew what we were in for, and obviously yes, we lost some points in the championship on both sides, but we are still fourth in the championship (something that would be sealed at Yas Marina in the finale)."

Alpine 'next in line'

In its various guises, Alpine have not won a championship since Alonso's first stint at the team back in 2005 and 2006 - with Ocon's Budapest win the first for the squad since Kimi Raikkonen's 2013 Australian GP success back in the Lotus days. However, despite the barren run, the affable Frenchman is optimistic that it is Alpine who are "next in line" to succeed in Grand Prix racing - especially given an anticipated convergence in car performance as the 2022 breed of cars mature. "Hopefully we can get closer to the front, it is the aim and next year's car in the simulator is very promising at the moment," he says. "Obviously we are keeping people on the ground, but it feels like a step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing what we will be able to do. "If you keep the regulations the same, at some point, every team progresses and hopefully you get closer to the top three. "We are focused at the moment - and we are the next ones in line to get there..."

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