After a bittersweet result in Melbourne, the team has its sights set on the first European race of the season in Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Chief Technical Officer Pat Fry gives an overview on the team's start to the 2022 season as well as an insight into the team's development plan for the coming races.
What are the main characteristics of the legendary Imola?
Pat Fry: "Imola is a classic Formula 1 circuit. In fact, I've been going there for 30 years, so it's certainly seen a lot of different Formula 1 cars in that time! I think it will be interesting to see how this year's cars can race at a circuit like Imola and hopefully we are able to put on a show. The track has a mix of low-speed chicanes and challenging medium speed corners, it will be good to see how our car stacks up with these different challenges from the first three rounds. It's the first European race of the season after the early international races, so we'll see how we fare and aim to continue our promising start to the season."
How satisfied are you with the team's start to the 2022 season?
PF: "We can be reasonably satisfied with the first three races. Clearly, our qualifying performance is relatively competitive since we've had both cars regularly in Q3 and, had we got things right in Melbourne, we could have been as high as the second row. We need to improve our race pace and we're investigating what can be done. There's always the right balance to be found between qualifying pace and race pace and we need to continue to work on this to get comfortable with the car on low and high fuel. Overall, we've done a reasonable job and there's plenty for us to improve. We're in a sensible position and we've given ourselves a strong base where we can move forwards from. Our job now is getting on top of the niggling reliability issues to allow us to focus on bringing upgrades to the car."
What upgrades is the team bringing to Imola?
PF: "We, like everyone, are trying to develop the car as quickly as possible. We're working through bringing weight saving items to the car when and where we can. Although it's a Sprint race weekend we still have a new floor upgrade that we will test, so we'll see how that fares in the sole Friday practice session. It's a step in the right direction and it will be interesting to see how it performs on track."
It's the first Sprint Qualifying of the season, how does that change the team's approach to the race weekend?
PF: "We'll see how the first Sprint Qualifying of the season pans out. It probably allows some recovery to the weekend if, for example, you have a disappointing Friday qualifying result. Having a Sprint Qualifying also means you approach the weekend slightly differently. There's a degree of risk by bringing new upgrades as there's only one practice session to test things out before qualifying and, therefore, you need to be decisive in what you take forwards for the rest of weekend. We're confident in our correlation work and our aim is to bring decent upgrades to the car as quickly as we can."
Esteban Ocon continued his best ever start to a Formula 1 season after a seventh-place finish at the Australian Grand Prix. The Frenchman - who now sits seventh in the drivers' championship - enters his third-ever race in Imola having finished ninth at the historic Italian circuit last year.
Twenty points and seventh in the Drivers' Championship. You must be pleased with how your season has started.
Esteban Ocon: "Three races finishing in the points is obviously a good result for me, so I am for sure happy with how the new season has begun. Personally, it's good to show consistency with solid performances in these early stages in a season but there is room for improvement in many areas. As a team, we've had mixed results and not being satisfied with where we stand today is testament to the progress we have made over the last months. I think we can see that the pace and potential is there, and we just need to put it all together with everything that a race weekend throws at us to improve our results overall. Importantly, we have shown that we are competitive, and I think I speak for everyone at Enstone and Viry when I say we are as motivated as ever to chase the results we know we can achieve as a team."
Imola next and back to Europe for the first Sprint Qualifying weekend of the season. What do you think of this format and do you prepare any differently heading into this weekend?
EO: "It will be nice to race in Europe again, it feels like it has been a while! As far as Sprint Qualifying goes, I am all for the evolution of the sport and whatever we can do to make it more exciting for the fans. I personally like this format and I am eager to get out there and try to score as many points as possible for the team. On my side, I will prepare how I normally would, and the sprint format doesn't make a difference in how I approach the race weekend. I will do the necessary simulator work and arrive as mentally and physically prepared as I can, as I would for any race."
You know Italian racetracks very well. Do you enjoy going back to there and what are your thoughts on Imola specifically?
EO: "Italy has a special place in my heart having spent so many years there in the junior categories. I won the 2014 European Formula 3 Championship there with a win and a podium, which was very special, so I definitely have great memories of racing in Italy in general. Imola is a classic racetrack with deep racing roots and it's always great to back. It was a great addition to the calendar a couple of years ago and enjoy racing there in front of the Italian fans. Last year, both Fernando and I just finished in the points so we will do our best to improve from that result this weekend."
Fernando Alonso heads to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix with a determination to add points to his 2022 tally, after two unlucky race weekends in a row. A race winner in Imola before, Fernando will rejoice, but not dwell on his past glories, as he aims to inspire Alpine at this weekend's first Sprint Qualifying of the season.
It was an unlucky weekend for you in Australia. But the car looked promising, tell us about it?
Fernando Alonso: "We had an unlucky Sunday after the issue we suffered in Q3 and it wasn't the result we wanted. The car was generally quite fast and I felt strong on Saturday. Looking back at our Q3 lap, I was in a good position and challenging for the top three positions. It was a shame we couldn't complete the lap, as up to that point I felt like it was my best weekend in a while. The team did a fantastic job getting the car fixed for the race, but it was always going to be difficult for us starting from tenth with overtaking not easy in Melbourne. We tried an alternate strategy but then the Safety Cars bunched up the field and effectively ruined the race for us. It wasn't easy to see us finish at the back, as again I felt we deserved more from the weekend. We can only move forward and try again in Imola!"
Do you think Alpine can challenge near the top again in Imola this weekend?
FA: "It's hard to say for sure as I think we will see a slightly different grid order at every Grand Prix this season given how close it all is. I think performance wise we seem fairly consistent at three different circuits so far, which is a positive sign. We know it's going to be a big development battle this year. There are twenty races to go, so there is plenty of time to recover some points in the standings."
Are you excited for the first Sprint Qualifying of the new season?
FA: "Yes, I think it's good to mix it up and we saw last year that in some races the Sprint Qualifying format worked well. If I look back then Silverstone was particularly enjoyable for me. Formula 1 has made some changes to the format for this season, we'll see if these have paid off. It's a tough but not impossible track to overtake on, so I hope we see some action from the field on Saturday and Sunday. There are a lot of points now available on three Saturdays this year. I'm hopeful we can come away with some points this weekend."
Check out our Thursday gallery from Imola, here.