Alpine team principal Otmar Szafauer does not believe that team orders are necessary just yet after the exciting battle between Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso at the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Having started the race ahead of his team-mate, Ocon found himself being attacked by the Spaniard early on in the race, and a late defensive move into Turn One almost put the 40-year-old into the pit wall.
Alonso later managed to pass his team-mate at the same corner, firmly slamming the door shut on the exit of Turn Two, before the Frenchman ventured off the circuit in his attempts to regain the position.
It will have made for some fairly uncomfortable viewing in the Alpine garage, but Szafnauer is satisfied that it all stayed within the boundaries of what is acceptable.
“It was fine, it was clean. It’s what the fans want to see and we told them at the beginning we’ll allow them to race,” he said.
“The only reason I did this was because we were losing a little bit more time than anticipated and that’s I think a little bit because of the track-specific stuff here and a little bit because the cars can follow each other easier now which was the aim of the new regulations and because of it, if you can follow easier you can start overtaking each other one lap after the next.”
Szafnauer was forced to establish team orders in both 2017 and 2018 when Ocon and then team-mate Sergio Perez persistently came to blows, but the battle in Jeddah would not have prevented them from picking up a respectable 14 points from the weekend.
“They did exactly what we talked about before the race and it was good for everybody as it turned out had Fernando not stopped on track we’d have been sixth and seventh, and we did give the fans a bit of a show and I think that’s what it’s about. You’ve got to let them race,” he added.
“We said that last weekend and we allowed them to race there. The only thing we’ve got to do is now assess what DRS does with these cars because you can follow a lot closer.
“Before it was really easy to brake the DRS train and then off you went. We just have to assess that.”
While the team-mates were going at it, Ocon was passed by Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, who capitalised on the loss of time experienced by the Enstone team.
“That’s exactly the type of thing we have to look at. When do we tell them to not start overtaking each other because it does cost the time. That is exactly the trade-off,” Szafnauer explained.
The Romanian-American affirms that it is easier for the team to intervene and manage a race in the closing stages, and this is a strategy Alpine might employ to secure results.
“In all my time in F1 when I was in a position to tell the drivers what to do, if at the end of the race, 10 laps to go or even 15 laps to go, there is no value in swapping the two meaning you can’t catch the guy in front of you and nobody behind can catch the two of you, you hold station,” he said.
“But that’s really hard to do at the beginning of the race because you can’t predict what’s going to happen but towards the end of the race, if there’s 10 laps, 15 laps, 20 laps to go, it’s about maximising the team’s points and if hold station means maximising team points, that is what we will do.”
Alpine would have managed four points finishes from the first two races between their drivers had it not been for Alonso’s engine failure towards the end of Sunday’s race, so the 57-year-old is pleased with his new team’s performance having joined from Aston Martin over the winter.
“It’s super tight the midfield,” he said.
“[I’m] happy that Esteban finished best of the rest today and Fernando would have been ahead of him had he not had his problems. So from that regard, we are happy.”
Under the new regulations, the cars are expected to evolve rapidly, so Szafnauer is fully aware that Alpine’s work needs to be relentless and efficient in 2022.
“However, the learning curve on this car is so steep that it’s going to be a development race so we just have to keep adding performance to the car.
“It is where it is right now but it’s not going to be the same tomorrow unless we add performance, at least the same rate as the others and what we’re trying to do is to add performance at a quicker rate to the others.”
Alpine sit fourth in the Constructors’ Championship heading into the Australian Grand Prix, which will take place on 10 April.