“Everything that could go wrong” went wrong at Alpine at the weekend in Baku – did the racing team gamble with the timing of the upgrade package?
“This weekend cannot be compared to any other,” says Alpine Sports Director Alan Permane after the real horror that the French racing team experienced last Formula 1 weekend in Baku. Alpine didn’t get a foot on the ground for the whole event and had to leave without any points after numerous problems.
It all started with Pierre Gasly’s injury in the first and only practice session. A hydraulic leak had caused a fire and prevented the Frenchman from making good use of the weekend’s only practice session. Because Esteban Ocon was also in the garage for a long time with gearbox problems, Alpine only had 15 laps on the clock after practice.
Not only was this bitter because it left the riders unable to prepare for the tricky course, Alpine had also brought a major upgrade to Azerbaijan with a new underbody that was not properly tested and therefore not properly adjusted for the remainder of the weekend could.
Although the mechanics were able to repair Gasly’s car in time for the start of qualifying, the Frenchman was able to threw the car straight into the barriers and dropped out in 19th place – just like in the sprint shootout. From his bad positions, he didn’t make it into the top 10 either in the sprint or in the race.
It was similarly bad for Ocon, who had finished outside the top 10 in both qualifying sessions. Alpine then decided change his setup, also because it was feared that the plank would wear out too much. Therefore he had to start in both races from the pit lane. But he couldn’t find his way into the points either.
“Honestly, it was so hectic and exhausting and difficult. It doesn’t feel like any other weekend,” says Permane. “You actually have to start well prepared and need a problem-free weekend. But that wasn’t the case with any of our cars in first practice. And then the snowball effect threw everything out of control.”
Gasly: Everything that could go wrong went wrong
Gasly has a similar opinion: “I think it’s difficult to have an even worse weekend as a team. So it’s important that we put that behind us,” says the Frenchman. “Basically everything that could have gone wrong went wrong and we clearly underperformed.”
This continued for him in the race when the safety car came at an unfavorable time for him. Gasly started on medium tires and came into the pits after just five laps to pick up the hard tyres. “We were trying something at the time and wanted to make an extra stop,” he says.
However, due to the safety car on lap 11, all the other drivers were able to pit as well and drive through to the end on hard tyres. Gasly, on the other hand, made the second stop on lap 23. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t try more,” he argues.
Ocon: Hard tires until the last lap
The safety car didn’t exactly come at a good time for team-mate Ocon either. He started out of the pits with hards and wanted to do a long first stint. With the exception of Nico Hülkenberg, all the other drivers were able to make their mandatory stop thanks to the safety car, while Ocon had to continue.
Only in the very last round when the photographers got ready in the pit lane and stood in his way, he came to change the tire. “We tried to keep the hards alive until the last moment and hoped for a safety car,” he explains. But that didn’t happen, so he finished one place behind Gasly in 15th place.
“At least we were able to keep the fastest cars, the two McLarens, behind us,” he tries to draw something positive from the race. “Alex (Albon) was also very fast and the whole race was quite intense and a tough fight. But unfortunately, we lost everything when we came into the pits.”
And so a turbulent and disappointing weekend for Alpine came to a colorless end. “I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like this before,” says Gasly about the problems that have accumulated. “It was difficult for me and difficult for the whole team. I don’t think anyone enjoyed it. But there are things we can all improve together.”
Upgrade in Baku a mistake?
Was it perhaps a mistake to bring the new parts to Baku where a treacherous street circuit and only one practice session awaits? “You have to bring the parts as soon as you get them,” Gasly dismisses, but admits: “That made it difficult because we only had four laps in practice and no time to really analyze the car.”
“We basically went into parc ferme with a set-up that we didn’t really test. But everyone had the same challenge,” says the Frenchman. “But I feel like we just underperformed enormously.”
Because the general performance was also “far removed” from the pace that Alpine had in Melbourne, regardless of the problems, where they also remained without points after a late internal team collision. “We have to analyze that and make sure it doesn’t happen again this season, because we can’t afford that for the championship,” he says.
A look at the World Cup table is sobering from Alpine’s point of view. They wanted to improve on last year’s fourth place and move closer to the top 3 teams. Alpine is currently in sixth place with a meager eight points – Ferrari is miles ahead in fourth with 62 points.
Difficult experience for the mechanics
After the weekend, sporting director Alan Permane especially feels for the mechanics, who had a really difficult time in Baku: “They worked so hard all weekend. They had an enormously difficult task with changing the engine for Pierre, and that has other effects that you all don’t see at all,” he says.
“They come here on Wednesday, assemble the cars and also the spare parts, such as replacement gearboxes, replacement engines and so on,” says Permane. “And if you use them all on Friday, then they have to stay late on Friday evening because there is no curfew on a sprint weekend because the cars are in the parc ferme,” he explains.
“They were here up until ten, eleven, stocking up on the spares they were just using to make sure we have an engine and gearbox ready should we need one.”
“So it’s doubly bitter for them,” says Permance. “You had a really grueling Friday.”
But things aren’t necessarily getting any better for the mechanics: “Next up is a grueling 14-hour flight to Miami and some of them will start straight back to work on Tuesday morning. It’s not easy to recover from something like that, especially when you’re about to start the next race. But we will make the best of it.”
However, Alpine should hope that a similar horror to Baku will not await in the coming weeks. Although there is no sprint in the coming weeks, there is one of the unloved triple headers with the treacherous race from Monaco right in the middle, which can quickly become a material battle.