When it was first reported that Pierre Gasly was a potential replacement at Alpine for the departing Fernando Alonso, those in the know questioned the compatibility of the pairing with Esteban Ocon.
Alpine spent much of the late summer in a state of apparent disarray over the Oscar Pastri debacle, where their junior driver’s contract was not watertight and he chose to leave for McLaren.
Alpine driver pairing a ‘powered keg’
When signing a new driver its normal for a team to do their due diligence though given the rookie errors Alpine made in the Piastri fiasco it could be the team never considered the history of their new driver pairing.
Since Gasly was announced as Alpine’s new driver, much has been made of the rift between the team’s new French pairing.
Even at the launch of Alpine’s F1 challenger for 2023, Esteban Ocon referred to the matter:
‘“I don’t think we will ever be best friends but that doesn’t matter really as long as the atmosphere is great inside the team, and that’s how it is at the moment and that’s how it will remain during the year.”
Gasly avoids the topic at launch
It was notable Gasly avoided the topic at the event speaking only about his and the team’s aspirations for 2023.
So what created the rift between the French drivers who will be Alpine team ‘mates’ for the coming season?
The pair were both born in Normandy and being the same age competed against each other from their days in karting. They met when Ocon’s father bought him a kart from one of Pierre’s brothers which resulted in them driving at the same track together most weeks as they lived just 30 minutes apart.
A depth of shared history
In an episode of Beyond the Grid podcast broadcast in Gasly’s maiden year with Toro Rosso (2018), Pierre was chatting about Ocon when he stopped and chuckled because he was “talking like if he was my girlfriend.”
Such was the obvious depth of their shared history.
Gasly further reveals, “We used to spend so much time together, train [at] the same track, going on weekends together.
“He used to come [to my] home many times and same for myself, we went to his place. I even remember times that in the winter, there was nobody coming to our racetrack.
“We were the only ones there, snowing like hell, and we were going for like three or four laps, coming back when our hands were completely freezing and going back of the truck with the heater just to get warm for 15 minutes and then after getting back on track for five other laps with the slick tyres on and just driving on the snow.”
“Honestly, we did spend some fantastic time together.”
The first big bust up
If there was a single event which disrupted this friendship, Gasly reveals it was during the final race in the Bridgestone Cup in 2009.
On the final corner of the final lap Gasly challenged Ocon for third and a podium finish when the pair collided. Gasly came off better and clinched third at the chequered flag which angered Ocon.
“The relationship unfortunately got a lot worse at some point in karting when we started to fight for the World Cup, European Championship, and also National Championship,” Gasly reveals.
“And I really remember one weekend, the World Cup in 2010 in Portugal that he literally cut the track, one corner, cutting the grass and hit me in the last heat before the pre-final because I was going to start I think second or third [and I] think he didn’t really like it.”
Absence of incidents in F1
Since joining Formula One the pair have not had many on track battles though their coming together on lap 1 at their home race at Paul Ricard 2018 saw both drivers eliminated.
Before the pair landed in F1 Gasly revealed, “We’ve spent a lot of time together but it got to a point where he got a bit too upset and it wasn’t so nice anymore. Then after we always had a rivalry.
“I started to beat him and he didn’t like it so we’re not friends any more. We can spend time together, we respect each other, [but] it doesn’t go further than that.”
Ocon drags up the past
It may well be Esteban Ocon who is responsible for the topic of the bad blood between hims and Gasly resurfacing.
Following Fernando Alonso announcing his departure from Alpine, Esteban Ocon took the unusual step of telling the assembled F1 media his preferred choice of team mate would be Mick Schumacher.
On the whole Formula One drivers avoid getting involved in what is and will always be a matter for the senior management within the team.
Sky F1’s Karun Chandhok weighed in on the matter when Alpine announced their pairing for the 2023 season claiming its was a ‘risky move’ and may cost the team vital points.
Chandhok predicts “fireworks”
“I think there will, 100 percent, be fireworks,” Chandhok told the Express.
“It seems to be an issue that started back in their karting days and it’s quite a deeply ingrained issue they had with each other.
“I think it goes both ways, I don’t know the full ins and outs of it but it’s quite clear there’s no love lost.
“It’ll take a pretty strong bit of management from Alpine to keep a lid on that. Ultimately, as a team they’ve got to sign the driver they think will bring them the most points and the best results.
“If that’s Gasly then they’ve just got to suck it up and somehow make sure it doesn’t boil over.
“They’ve got to be professional about it, they’ve got to be grown up about it. If you had an issue when you were 14 years old in karting, that’s fine, but now you’re in Formula 1 and you’ve got to be grown-ups about it.”
Alonso comically names Ocon “our friend”
Having developed under the tutelage of Helmet Marko in the Red Bull family, Gasly is used to being put in his place when required. Yet Esteban Ocon has experienced repeated inter garage tension with team mates dating back to his frosty relationship at Force India/Racing Point with Sergio Perez.
Ocon had his moments with Fernando Alonso too which resulted in the Spaniard hilariously referring to him in code as “our friend” over team radio at the US GP last year.
Pal Di Resta believes Ocon’s behaviour is the rule rather than the exception.
“It’s no secret that he [Gasly] and Ocon don’t necessarily get on too well,” the Scot explained in commentary during the 2022 Belgium GP.
“Not many get on with Ocon”
“I don’t think too many teammates get on with Ocon, to be honest,” Di Resta added.
“You heard Fernando on the radio. They work together on track but off it? He can be quite difficult. Sergio Perez had the same issue.”
From the views expressed by various F1 observers, the feeling is that it is Ocon who has something of a chip on his shoulder and being the senior member of the Alpine team could easily foster in him a sense of entitlement.
Ocon’s track record means we’re certain to see fireworks at some point from the Alpine garage which will provide endless footage for Netflix Drive to Survive sixth season due out in 12 months time.