How Alonso and Ocon “pushed team tactics to the ultimate limit” to delay Gasly

2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix

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[raceweekendpromotion]While the duel between the title contenders was centre stage at Interlagos last weekend, an intense and strategic three-car battle raged behind them which was only caught in glimpses on television.

On one side was Alpine duo Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, and on the other was AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. The two teams were level on points coming into the race, and AlphaTauri seemed to have the faster package. However neither team had run on hard tyres prior to putting them on for the race start.

Rather than bank on a presumed advantage or deficit on the compound, Alpine opted to use both of their cars to focus purely on fighting Gasly. That meant no fighting with each other.

A clue to exactly how Alpine would deploy their two drivers came after the sprint qualifying race. Gasly, quickest of all bar the Mercedes and Red Bulls on Friday, slumped to eighth ahead of Ocon (ninth) and Alonso (12th).

“We’re tied for fifth [with AlphaTauri], and they had the edge on us yesterday, but today I think we have the edge on them,” Alpine’s sporting director Alan Permane said. “Pierre went backwards, we were being held up, Esteban felt with another couple of laps he’d been able to get past him.

Alpine set out to prevent AlphaTauri out-scoring them
“He’s got a lot more laps tomorrow to be able to do that. Both drivers said the car felt very good, very strong in the race. And we had a pretty decent showing in FP2. That wasn’t all show, it was homework for the sprint race. We’re feeling good for tomorrow.”

Permane said that Alpine “needed to score more points” than AlphaTauri on Sunday, but admitted he’d take a scenario where Gasly beat them but the combined scores of his drivers meant AlphaTauri wouldn’t move ahead in the standings.

Alpine’s strategy first became evident when Ocon pitted from sixth place on lap 30 of 71 as he made use of a Virtual Safety Car period. The team planned to double-stack the two cars, but Alonso didn’t follow Ocon in and instead pitted under green flag conditions four laps later.

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As a result, both drivers dropped out of the points but were in a position where if they stuck to the one-stop strategy then Gasly could be threatened. Ocon’s engineer delivered the message first: “The goal is to keep Gasly in our pit window. If he stops he will come out behind us. His tyres are five laps older than yours.”

Vettel was unimpressed with Tsunoda’s defending tactics
At this point Ocon had a few cars between himself and Alonso, who had to clear Sebastian Vettel and Gasly’s team mate Yuki Tsunoda. As Vettel laboured to pass a defensive Tsunoda, Alonso took advantage of his delay to pass the pair of them in succession.

“Not very clever from AlphaTauri,” remarked Vettel of his former team on his radio. “They’re fighting Alpine in the championship.”

Alonso’s progress improved the strategic picture for Alpine. Ocon was told to get Alonso into his own tow to bring him into pit stop range of Gasly too. It worked, because soon the gap between the Alpine drivers was reducing. Another message was delivered to Ocon:

PeckettI want you to swap places with Fernando please. Swap places with Fernando behind.
OconCopy that. How far behind is he?
Peckett1.4 seconds.

With 20 laps to go, Gasly then made a second stop and dropped behind the Alpines, but their job wasn’t done yet against his fresher tyres.

“Swap places with Fernando when you can,” Ocon was told. “Gasly is five seconds behind, on a new hard tyre.”

Ocon slowed down significantly on the straight to turn four, allowing Alonso through. It was his turn now to tow around Ocon, but the dirty air was more difficult to navigate on older tyres and Ocon almost immediately slipped out of DRS range.

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At first he asked for confirmation that the positions would be swapped back again at the end, which he got, but then radio channel was open again one sector later as Alonso pulled away.

PeckettGasly is now 3.5s behind. I know it’s tough. Try to stick with him.

The one-second barrier to Ocon was breached by Gasly on lap 55, four laps after he had pitted, but a lapped Haas actually brought Ocon out of DRS range of his pursuer at the crucial part of the circuit. It also brought him back into the slipstream of his team mate, and although Gasly was able to try the inside of turn one and the outside of turn four on lap 58, he was off-line.

His passing attempt was also frustrated by Alonso, who kept a close eye on his mirrors and deliberately handed Ocon a slipstream to briefly break away each time.

This continued until lap 60, which began with words of praise from the Alpine pit wall to Ocon, who moments later conceded eighth place as Gasly barged down the inside of turn one. However Alonso was still playing games and gave Ocon such a powerful slipstream on the run to turn four that only very late braking from Gasly kept him ahead.

Gasly got by, but Alpine remain ahead in the championship
Gasly cleared Alonso a lap later and, finally free of the A521s, unleashed his AlphaTauri’s pace to pull away by 16 seconds in the remaining 10 laps. Ocon consistently lost time to cooperating with blue flags but Alpine stuck to their promise of giving him the position back. Alonso gave up nearly nine seconds through the final sector of the last lap to let his team mate back through.

By finishing eighth and ninth, and with Gasly in seventh, it means the two teams remain level on points, Alpine still ahead by dint of their Hungarian Grand Prix win. “It’s been a mega team effort today,” Ocon gushed. “Everything that we’ve done in this race, the big fights all the way until the end.

“We pushed the team tactics to the ultimate limit, really. Unfortunately, it was just not enough to keep Gasly behind. But very positive race for both of us, and we’ve shown how far we want to keep that fifth place in the constructors alive with that race today.”

2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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22 comments on “How Alonso and Ocon “pushed team tactics to the ultimate limit” to delay Gasly”

  1. They are lucky Yuki is struggling so much, tho.

    Even if he finished only 10th at every GP, it’d make life incredibly difficult to Alpine. That 8th to 12th place battle is very intense at every GP, and having Yuki there more consistently would make this battle for 5th in the constructors championship rather one sided.

    1. @fer-no65 One-sided? Isn’t this the case now, though, given Alpine has both drivers scoring points consistently against only Gasly for AT? I may have misinterpreted your post’s ending – I don’t know.

  2. So that’s why they switch places. cc @frood19

  3. Yeah, that was another part of the race that made it really interesting. Thanks to get the details of this to add to what we got to see on track.

  4. I immediately assumed they had swapped already at the time, especially as they eventually finished in their previous order.
    Good tactical attempt anyway.
    Under normal circumstances, Alpine will probably keep P5 until the end since they have both drivers consistently scoring points, unlike AT.

  5. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    16th November 2021, 9:28

    It is surprising to see how far behind Alpine have fallen now that they are duking it out with a B team. Granted, many teams have struggled in the hybrid era, but eventually all ‘factory’ teams-Merc,RB, Ferrari- bar Alpine/Renault have shown front running pace at some point or the other. Even McLaren had a stellar first half of this season. Hopefully 2022 can bring better results but I highly doubt that.

    1. @asleepatthewheel they did get a win though this year, but yeah, they should be closer to Ferrari and McLaren than to Alpha Tauri (although McLaren struggled in this race as well)…

      1. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
        16th November 2021, 10:53

        Hungary win was primarily due to all front runners being wiped out or left with damaged cars, combined with a Mercedes strategy masterstroke and Alonso playing hail Mary with Lewis.

    2. @asleepatthewheel

      It is surprising to see how far behind Alpine have fallen now that they are duking it out with a B team.

      Their development is frozen and their chassis is one of the oldest in the grid. 2021 was not much more than a rehearsal season for them.

      Hopefully 2022 can bring better results but I highly doubt that.

      Next season was what they were really focusing on, Alonso said it many times about new regs, so they should be way better than they are now. It’s all uncharted territory but maybe they will be up there as equals against Ferraris and McLarens? Who knows. We don’t even know if Mercedes and Red Bull will remain in the top, so it might get pretty interesting.

      1. I totally agree with your assertions on next year. There are however some subtle clues as to which manufacturers can and will be at the sharp end of the grid by assessing the current ratio of points between driver pairings for each manufacturer this season. The manufacturers concerned are both Alpine and Ferrari, who have a balanced points distribution with the driver pairings compared to Red Bull, Mercedes and Alpha Tauri.

  6. One of the best articles I’ve read on here. Felt the energy of the hunt throughout

  7. Thank you very much indeed for this intereting piece — rather OEUVRE of teamwork ! ! !
    A pity that TV-direction only has capabilities / resources to focus ONE duel per race …

  8. This is an amazing report and shows how much more there is to see in the race. It also just shows again what a beast gasly is. That guy is a midfield juggernaut. It takes a nation of Alpines to hold him back.

    1. @dmw

      This is an amazing report and shows how much more there is to see in the race. It also just shows again what a beast gasly is. That guy is a midfield juggernaut.

      Such a pity that AT and their mechanics never get the credits for the respectable jump in performance they achieved from last year. Yeah, Gasly has been very good, Tsunoda is struggling but there’s more to it.

    2. I wonder why Gasly did not succeed at Red Bull? If he is considered for a second chance at Red Bull would he be able to replicate this season’s qualifying and race pace performances, or would he revert back to type from 2 seasons ago?

  9. I’m always wondering why not more teams use the tactic of using both cars in synch to stop a rival behind. Clearly a single car is a sitting duck against DRS on the Sao Paolo start-finish, I thought maybe it’s possible to orchestrate a defensive manoeuvre lap after lap to protect the front car (the one without DRS) from being overtaken by the rival, by using the middle car as a blocker. The front car protects the racing line, while the middle car dives into the inside, to prevent the rival from doing it, and holding alongside the teammate until the turn-in. The two cars swap position into T1. And then do it the other way around the next lap.

    Love to see it when teammates are actually working together rather than trying to show they’re better than their teammate. Shame the plan didn’t work out this time.

    1. Not more teams field Alonso in one their cars.

  10. Nice article, would love to see more of this type of analysis

  11. F1 broadcasts really need to improve to show us these battles too. In Sky’s F1 coverage, I’ve noticed that only Crofty is interested in mentioning the battles and challenges faced by the mid-field teams during the races. Brundle is only concerned about the top two and fails to give any insight on the teams lower down the order. They too make up Formula 1.

    1. José Lopes da Silva
      16th November 2021, 20:30

      Which is odd, because Brundle has spent most of his career in the midfield.

      1. José Lopes da Silva

        Which is odd, because Brundle has spent most of his career in the midfield.

        Maybe it’s some sort of trauma.

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