Pierre Gasly has voiced his dissatisfaction with Alpine’s team orders during the Japanese Grand Prix, highlighting potential trouble brewing at the team. Gasly, who had shown strong pace throughout the race, was ordered to let his teammate Esteban Ocon pass on the final lap.
“What the hell? Why is that? I’m on fresher tyres and I would have caught him anyway!” says Gasly – “We’ll discuss it in the office, please swap.” replies the team pit wall.
The former Red Bull driver complied with the instructions but was clearly frustrated, as he believed this arrangement was not discussed beforehand. This decision has ignited a debate within the Alpine team, as Ocon and the management perceive it as a reasonable strategic move.
Ocon started the race from 14th place and was involved in an early collision which resulted in a puncture. A safety car period allowed Ocon to regain his position. He switched to the hard compound and was set to finish the race on this set with just over half the race remaining.
Gasly made a difficult start from 12th place, but gradually made up ground, also benefiting from pit stops by drivers on softer tyres. He ran on the medium-hard C2 tyres until lap 18, when he switched to the hard compound. On lap 34, he returned for a set of C1 tyres, which put him behind Ocon.
Gasly quickly closed the gap of almost ten seconds between them within ten laps, as he had tyres six laps fresher than Ocon’s. Ocon eventually gave way, allowing Gasly to pass and announcing his intention to challenge Fernando Alonso up front.
Alonso, whose tyres were nine laps older than Gasly’s, was almost nine seconds ahead in eighth place.
Team orders issued
Even this change of position was somewhat reluctant, with Ocon making sure of it first. “If he doesn’t get the position, he gives it back, right? Can you confirm that?” he radioed to his engineer Josh Peckett before letting him pass. Gasly, on the other hand, didn’t ask and wasn’t told – a reimbursement was obviously out of the question for him.
However, in a surprising twist, Gasly received instructions from his race engineer to let Ocon pass again on the penultimate lap. Gasly expressed his shock and disagreement, questioning the team’s decision and stating that he had started ahead of Ocon and maintained his position throughout the race.
“Are you serious? I started in front of him and was leading the whole race…”
Loos replied: “The order comes from the pit wall. Please change at turn 16!”
After crossing the finish line, Gasly was told not to say anything. Accordingly, he remained silent for the entire run-out lap. It was only when he entered the Parc Ferme and was told where to park his car that he made a sarcastic remark:
“Yes, we’ll stop here. I understand. I understand what you’re doing”.
After the race he remarked: “This was not discussed before the race. With the strategy they had planned, it was clear that Esteban would eventually overtake me, but my pace was better and I would have overtaken him [even without team orders]. “Because I had the fresher tyres. There was never any talk of us swapping positions because I started at the front and I was always at the front,”
“Tenth and ninth or ninth and tenth is the same for a team, but I definitely didn’t expect this. And I don’t really understand it because I was the car in front. We’ll have to talk about it”.
Alpine stands by its decisions
Team Principal Bruno Famin has a different view:
“To get the best team result, we left Pierre in front of Esteban to have a chance to overtake Fernando, even if it was slim. That wasn’t possible [in the end], so it’s perfectly normal to swap back”.
The incident has raised questions about the clarity of communication within the Alpine team. Interim team boss Bruno Famin insisted that the decision was made to maximise the team’s performance and score more points by allowing Gasly to challenge Alonso.
Discussions with Gasly will therefore focus on whether communication could have been clearer.
“That’s the point we have to investigate, to be completely transparent. I don’t know when exactly what was said. We need to clarify that”.
“Sometimes we have communication problems because the radio signal is not so good. Or sometimes the engineer thinks he has made himself clear, but the driver may not have understood because he was concentrating on something else”.
“So we have to check that the driver has understood the information correctly. Either way, the manoeuvre was done in the interest of the team and I have no doubt that both drivers agree with it.
“If we need to do it differently in the next races, they will do it. They know that and there is no tension. It’s just about doing the race”.
Ocon on board with Alpine
Esteban Ocon has supported the team’s decision, claiming that this practice of swapping positions to maximise the team’s results has been in place at Alpine for several years. Ocon is open to continuing this approach, but also values competitive racing on the track.
Ocon says: “I’ve been in this team for four years now. And the rule has always been: If a driver gets the position, he has to take the place in front of him to keep it.” In this case it was Alonso in eighth place.
“Otherwise you just give the place back to your teammate. We’ve always done it that way. If I’m on the other side, of course I’ll do that too.” Even if he prefers the real fight on the track, he adds.
“I’m more of an old-school guy and would never ask to swap positions. But I also understand the point of view of the team, which tried to take Fernando’s position to get more points. Unfortunately, we didn’t succeed .”
The debate within Alpine highlights the delicate balance between individual and team objectives in F1. While drivers are expected to compete for the best personal results, they also have a responsibility to contribute to the overall success of the team.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 24, 2023
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