The team extended its points scoring run to fourteen Grands Prix in a row, after an action-packed race in Sochi that saw Fernando Alonso take sixth position at the chequered flag. Executive Director Marcin Budkowski discusses the dramatic end to the Russian Grand Prix and the team's approach for this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix.
What are your thoughts following the race in Russia?
Marcin Budkowski: We came very close to securing a podium in that race had it not been for the late downpour. Fernando drove a fantastic race and found himself hunting down the cars ahead in all types of weather and track conditions. It was almost impossible to predict what the track was going to be like towards the end and it became a bit of a lottery. Esteban found himself further down during the race and was unable to make up the sort of ground he was aiming for. Despite all of the challenges during the race, we came away from Russia with some good points to add to our tally in the Constructors' Championship.
The team is on a run of fourteen points scoring races in a row. How pleased are you with this level of consistency?
MB: While we are not exactly where we want to be in terms of competitiveness, the fact that we have been able to score points in fourteen races in a row is a great indicator of how, as a team, we are managing to get the best of our package in all circumstances and of the progress we made this year in terms of reliability. We now need to further consolidate our position in the Championship and extend our lead over Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin, and this can only be achieved through consistent points finishes and being ready to grasp any opportunity, especially when big points are on the table - we have seen that anything can happen this year!
The team heads to Turkey next. What are your expectations heading to Istanbul Park?
MB: Istanbul Park is a great Formula 1 circuit and we're happy to be coming back for a second consecutive year. It usually plays host to entertaining races and the drivers love racing there. Turn 8 is perhaps the most talked about part of the track and it's always incredible to watch the modern-day Formula 1 car taking this corner. We qualified with both cars inside the top seven last year in quite changeable conditions. However, our race didn't go as planned and we were unfortunate with a few incidents at the start. The tarmac was also resurfaced last year, creating quite a headache for the teams, it has been worked on extensively for this year so it will be interesting to see how it changes the track characteristics.
What have you made of the level of excitement in the sport this year?
MB: It's been a very exciting year for Formula 1 with multiple race winners, leaders and drivers stepping onto the podium. We obviously saw Esteban take his first, and Alpine's first win in Hungary, and have witnessed some magical performances by Fernando. Just take the last race in Sochi as a prime example of this. It's an exciting time for Formula 1 and hopefully this level of competitiveness and unpredictability can carry over into 2022 to coincide with the new regulations.
The Russian Grand Prix ended Esteban Ocon's five-race points-scoring run. The Frenchman showed strong pace in Turkey last year and he is determined to bounce back in Istanbul with a strong haul of points.
What do you like about Istanbul Park and how do you reflect on last season's race?
Esteban Ocon: I like Istanbul Park as it's a really cool circuit. It was my first time racing there last year, as it was for a lot of drivers on the grid, and it definitely lived up to expectations. When it was announced that we'd be racing in Turkey again I was pretty happy as I feel like I have some sort of unfinished business there. It was an interesting weekend last year for many reasons. The track had been resurfaced and at first it was challenging to find the grip on track. Then as the track began to rubber in, it rained on Saturday for Qualifying and it was probably the most challenging conditions I've ever driven in. We made a strong start off the line in the race and certainly there was potential for a good result, but a number of incidents halted any progress, which I'm determined to put right this year.
Are you expecting conditions to be better this time around?
EO: It's an excellent circuit for Formula 1 and hopefully the conditions are better this year and we have more grip as I feel driving a Formula 1 car at full commitment there would be pretty cool. The tyres are a step softer than last season and the weather looks better so hopefully we can put it all together and enjoy a solid weekend. There have been some awesome races in Istanbul in the past like in 2006 between Fernando and Michael, which I remember very well. There are some mega corners there especially Turn 8 and, with more grip, will be a lot of fun.
How do you plan to return to the points after Russia?
EO: I was disappointed not to score points in Russia as we had been on a good run of picking up top ten finishes. We won't hide away from the fact we missed an opportunity at the end of the race with the mixed conditions. Sometimes it falls like that. However, we have spent the week reviewing some things as, in the dry, we were not too competitive, and we missed out a little bit. We've done our homework; everyone is working hard and I can't wait to go to Istanbul. The target is a return to the points and keep up the fight for fifth in the Championship.
Fresh off the back of his sixth-place finish in Sochi, Fernando returns to the Istanbul Park for the first time in ten years. After narrowly missing out on the podium in Russia, Fernando is eager to continue his rich vein of form in Turkey.
In the last few laps in Russia a 98th career podium looked very possible for you. How do you reflect on that crazy end to the race in Sochi?
Fernando Alonso: We were so close to achieving a podium in Russia and I felt it was earnt on merit. I think had it not rained heavier in those final few laps, then it could have been possible. It was very difficult for anyone to predict and we weren't the only ones to lose their positions in the final exchanges. In the end, we came away from the race with some solid points and sixth place, so we can't be too disheartened. We can be quite pleased with how competitive we were in wet and dry conditions and need to take this momentum into Turkey.
You last raced in Turkey ten years ago, are you looking forward to racing at the Istanbul Park again?
FA: Yes, I have some nice memories of the Turkish Grand Prix. It's a circuit with a good mix of high-speed corners and overtaking opportunities. Turn 8 is a unique challenge and I look forward to tackling this corner in a modern-day Formula 1 car. I had a fun battle with Michael [Schumacher] there in 2006. He was right behind my gearbox exiting the final corner on the last lap. That was just one of a number of on track battles we had that season. It's a circuit that I enjoy racing at, and I look forward to returning there once again.
You've pulled off some impressive overtaking manoeuvres at several races this year. What's been your favourite moment so far this season?
FA: I think Sochi was possibly one of my best races this year. The car was competitive during the race and the battles with the Ferraris, McLarens and Red Bulls were very exciting towards the end. In just a few laps we were climbing a number of places. Sprint Qualifying in Silverstone was also fun and so was Hungary for obvious reasons. We've had some good races this year and importantly we've been consistent. We need to keep up this consistency and score more points for the team to finish the season on a high.