Alpine F1 Team makes its official race debut this weekend at the Bahrain Grand Prix. With a productive three-day pre-season test under the belt, Executive Director Marcin Budkowski discusses the opening round of the season.
It's the season start, how ready is the team?
Marcin Budkowski: We had a good pre-season test and we covered solid mileage without any significant reliability issues. We went through our items and, from a preparation point of view, we're in better shape than previous seasons. We have some unanswered questions on the car, though, and we are working through all the data from the test last week to improve our understanding and are planning further tests in free practice on Friday.
How will the team plan the weekend given the shorter practice sessions and the fact we're arriving at the same circuit on the back of three days testing?
MB: It's certainly unique as normally we're used to testing in Barcelona in February before going to Australia for the opening race. By the time we arrived in Barcelona in May for the race, not only does the car evolve, but the conditions are so much different. This year, however, we're returning to the same venue at the same time of the year, so we're definitely more ready for the race weekend than we would normally be at this point of the season.
Some of the tests we did last week were planned on giving us a head start for the race, especially tyre related work. We also have less time on a Friday this year - from three hours of track time to two hours - so that makes preparation work more difficult. That said, the same venue and conditions can play its tricks. During the test, the wind direction turned 180 degrees and that made a difference to car behaviour. That's something we'll keep an eye on.
How are the drivers feeling after the test heading into race week?
MB: Both drivers were positive after the test. Even if it was just three days of running, they both had exactly one and a half days each. Both Esteban and Fernando would agree they had the best preparation possible given the time allowed and they both enter race week having driven the exact same number of laps in the car, counting the shakedown. The A521 is sane, it's responding well to set up changes and we know the areas we can work on to make it quicker.
After the three-day pre-season test, Esteban Ocon is all set for this week's Bahrain Grand Prix. The talking stops, the visor goes down and the Frenchman is raring to unleash the A521 into race mode.
What will it be like to drive the Bahrain International Circuit again on the back of testing there?
Esteban Ocon: In recent months, and weeks, it's a track we've been to a lot. Obviously, we've only had a week off from testing and we're back in Bahrain for the first race, which is exciting. I think it means we'll enter the race weekend more dialled into the circuit and we'll use practice to refine things rather than find things. Testing was good for us. I left there feeling happy with how the A521 felt and how we worked as a team. We discovered some new ideas and now we have to put all that knowledge to work and execute a good race weekend.
How special is racing in Bahrain to you?
EO: I do like Bahrain. It's a circuit, which will hold some very special memories for me forever. My first Formula 1 podium there last season, even if it was on the outer layout, was very special. When I was in the paddock last week, it reminded me of that awesome night. It'd be nice to repeat it again. We'll remain realistic, though, and look to put together a strong race weekend and grab any opportunity that comes up. Anything can happen, especially the first race of the season, and we're definitely looking forward to it.
What are your first impressions of the team and the car after testing?
EO: The A521 was great and I was left feeling happy with all the things we learned and discovered about it. And I'm a big fan of the colour scheme! It was nice to work with Fernando for the first time properly. We spoke regularly over the test, gave each other comments while we were out of the car and exchanged some ideas to help drive the team. I'm looking forward to continuing the collaboration at a race for the first time, but we both know it's time to get down to business and the target is to take as many points home as possible for the Constructors' Championship.
Fernando Alonso makes his return to Formula 1 at the Bahrain International Circuit this weekend and he is more motivated than ever before.
How excited are you ahead of your first race back in Formula 1 in two years?
Fernando Alonso: I'm very excited for the entire weekend. There has been a lot of preparation for this moment, not only with the team during testing and the work done at both factories over the winter period, but also personally. Ever since I agreed to join Alpine F1 Team, I have put a lot of effort in to be both physically and mentally prepared for this season. I learnt a lot in my time away from Formula 1, especially all the different styles of racing, but I'm now back in F1 and very motivated for what should be a challenging season ahead. It was fun to be back at the wheel of an F1 car for testing, but now I can't wait to go racing.
The team covered a lot of ground during pre-season testing in Bahrain, are you feeling confident heading into this season opener at the wheel of the A521?
FA: We covered a lot of mileage during testing, which is important as it gives you something to build on for the rest of the season. We also completed most of our programme during the three days in Bahrain, so we are relatively pleased on that front. In terms of performance it's too early to tell, and I think we won't know the true pecking order of the grid until the first qualifying session on Saturday where everyone has low fuel, the fastest tyres fitted and full power from the engine. I expect there will be a few surprises.
Do you enjoy racing at the Bahrain International Circuit?
FA: It's a good track with a mixture of corner speeds and long straights. Overtaking is possible here and this means it usually provides an exciting race on Sunday. We've also covered over 2,000km during testing, so we feel well prepared for the circuit and weekend ahead. Although, as we saw during testing, the weather conditions here can have a huge impact on car performance so we are wary of that. I'm aiming for a strong first race weekend back in Formula 1.