Alpine F1 Team heads into the final round of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship in Abu Dhabi, with fifth position in the Constructors' Standings firmly within its grasp. Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi, discusses the finale coming up this weekend and reflects on what has been a solid first season for the team, which has seen its fair share of positives ahead of a new dawn in Formula 1 next year.
What are the objectives for Alpine heading into the final round in Abu Dhabi?
Laurent Rossi: It's quite simple for us, the objective is to secure fifth place in the championship. We might have a good points advantage over Alpha Tauri, but as we've seen this year anything can happen in Formula 1. All it takes is one big points swing, so we won't be celebrating anything until we know it's final. Despite the positives, we must also be quite harsh on ourselves and accept that fifth place is not where we want to be finishing any season. We have targets and goals in mind for the following seasons and we need to build on this year to make sure Alpine is up there and where it belongs in the future.
What are your reflections on the 2021 season as a whole?
LR: I think 2021 has seen the team show tremendous consistency in what has been more or less a carryover from 2020, with respect to the cars and regulations. We've finished in the points in all but two races so far this year and I think we have to be quite pleased with that outcome. We can also look back proudly on the team's, and Esteban's first win in Formula 1 in Hungary, and of course the podium for Fernando more recently in Qatar. We've shown great focus and determination and I think we earned these results on merit during a difficult year. It's not all been positives and it's important we take our learnings from this year into the coming seasons. It's not only about focusing on the rule changes for 2022 but it's the years that follow too. Formula 1 is viscous, and if you don't progress continually, you can quickly fall behind. We need to firstly end our season strongly in Abu Dhabi, have a good winter programme and enter next year with maximum focus.
The whole team has displayed some incredible moments of teamwork this year, tell us a little about that?
LR: I think what we've shown this year, on and off the track, teamwork is what drives us forward and it's what we're all about. We do things our way, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. The team spirit runs through the DNA of the factories in Enstone and Viry, and now Dieppe too. It's culminated into the results we've seen at the track between our two drivers. They have great respect for one another, and I can't think of many other driver pairings who have shown the togetherness our two guys have demonstrated this year. You only have to think back to when Fernando defended hard for Esteban in Hungary, and then a somewhat reversing of the roles in Qatar just a few weeks ago to repay the favour. We're building a good team and we need to keep developing this atmosphere on this exciting journey.
Just one tenth of a second was the difference between a third career visit to the Formula 1 podium for Esteban Ocon in Saudi Arabia. The Frenchman drove courageously on the Jeddah streets to take fourth place and a valuable 12 points. Now, Esteban is determined to finish the season strongly at the season finale in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
After coming so close to a podium, what's your feeling after the race?
Esteban Ocon: It's a strange feeling for me leaving Saudi Arabia for Abu Dhabi. I'm so proud of what we achieved in the race with fourth place but, at the same time, there's the slight disappointment at not taking a trophy there with us. We gave it everything we had and it was not enough, unfortunately, to take third. After the race, we discovered some quite significant damage to the floor during the final couple of laps, which explains some of the performance loss and maybe why we missed out by such a small margin. There are so many positives from the race and, as a team, we can be very proud. We raced well, we made the right decisions at the right times and gave ourselves the best chance to score big points, which are so important for the championship. There's still one final push and I'll be fighting until the end to finish this season as best as I can.
What do you like about the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
EO: In my entire Formula 1 career so far, Abu Dhabi has always been the final race of the season. There's a unique buzz around the paddock for the whole weekend as the season draws to a close with championship places still up for grabs. It's another night race, which is becoming more and more regular now in Formula 1. They are always enjoyable as it gives you a different sensation of speed under the lights. What's different this year with Abu Dhabi is the track changes. There are effectively some new corners to learn, which changes the shape of the lap. It'll be interesting to see what this will do to benefit racing. Hopefully it means there will be some more overtaking opportunities on race day, so let's see.
What are your memories from racing at Yas Marina?
EO: I've had some memorable races in Abu Dhabi in the past. In 2015, it's where I won the GP3 Series. Also, I had my first proper taste for Formula 1 when I drove for the team in FP1 back in 2014. Last year's race was a fun one, which went right to the end. We were battling for the points and on the final lap, I guess the final lap of the racing season actually, I managed to make a pass on my friend Lance [Stroll] for ninth place, which was great. The aim this year is to be in the mix for higher scoring points, like in Saudi Arabia, and hopefully we can make some similar moves on the way!
Fernando Alonso heads to Abu Dhabi after a challenging Saudi Arabian Grand Prix that saw him finish thirteenth. The Spaniard will refocus for the final round and look to sign his comeback season off in style to help steer Alpine to a fifth-place finish in the constructors' championship.
What are your takeaways from last weekend's first ever race in Jeddah?
Fernando Alonso: It was probably a very exciting race to watch for the fans but it was very stressful in the cockpit! The race was full of incidents and luck played its role in the outcome and unfortunately, we ended up on the unlucky side this time. We pitted during the first Safety Car and had everything fallen into place for us we'd maybe have restarted our race in fifth or sixth. The red flag basically ended our race and made it very difficult to get back into the points after a very positive start. Esteban did well and scored some valuable points in the championship though, and he was so close to another podium for the team, so there are many positives we can take from the weekend.
The track in Abu Dhabi has been revised, what are your expectations of the new layout?
FA: I think it's been clear for a while that the circuit is quite difficult to overtake on and hopefully these changes can make the difference. It's a shame when a title deciding race is tough to overtake on, but it's a good track to race on and if there can be more overtaking it'll naturally make it more exciting for us drivers and everybody watching. We like racing in Abu Dhabi and I am curious to see if it will change anything. I'm always keen for trialling new circuit layouts, so let's see on Sunday.
You're in contention for the award for the most overtakes this season, is there one move that stands out for you this year?
FA: We've had some fun battles out there and with Sebastian and Kimi too who are also in contention for this award. Maybe we can have our own mini race on Sunday and see who gets the most overtakes. When I look back perhaps the overtake on Pierre Gasly in Qatar was the best as it set us up for the podium nicely and I was determined to make a good start. Then there was also the move on Carlos (Sainz) in Zandvoort which was very enjoyable. I was fully committed to that move knowing how tough it was to make a manoeuvre at that track. It was also towards the end of the race, so I approached it a little like it was all or nothing. The Sprint Race at Silverstone made for some nice moves, and also Portimão was enjoyable, as the car came alive in the race and we had some fun there. Being able to overtake is a huge part in what makes Formula 1 exciting, and hopefully we see a positive trend next year with the new cars and regulations.