Alpine drivers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly both say they want a strong working relationship together as team mates after their early racing rivalry led to tension between the pair.
The two French drivers raced together in karting as children and were friends despite their rivalry. However, according to Gasly, their relationship deteriorated as they got older and the two ended their friendship.
“I started to beat him and he didn’t like it, so we’re not friends any more,” Gasly explained back in 2018.
“We’ve spent a lot of time together but it got to a point where he got a bit too upset and it wasn’t so nice any more. So we kind of stopped [socialising]. Then after we always [had] quite a lot of rivalry. I think we respect each other as drivers.”
Since joining the Formula 1 grid, the pair have both taken their first grand prix victories, becoming the first French winners in F1 since Oliver Panis back in 1996. Gasly has joined Alpine for 2023 to fill Fernando Alonso’s former seat and team principal Otmar Szafnauer says he has seen no signs of tension between the pair so far.
“I’ve known Esteban for a long time and just starting to get to know Pierre, but I see no evidence of that,” Szafnauer told media including RaceFans at the launch of the team’s A523 car for the 2023 season.
“Yes, I hear exactly what you hear, but they’re working collaboratively. They went recently to Finland together and they flew on the same aeroplane out there together where they didn’t have to. So it looks like they’re friends again.
“But forget the friendship – the most important thing is they have to work as a team, because it’s a team effort. They have to share their experiences on track and the data to lift us all and I think that will happen. I don’t think we’ll have an issue.”
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Gasly says that he and Ocon’s relationship as team mates will benefit now they are both older and more experienced in Formula 1 than in their earlier years in the world championship.
“It’s been good. I think it’s been really good,” Gasly said. “We think we’ve spent more time together in the past two months than we’ve spent over the last eight years or ten years.
“It was very important and I’m pleased with the way that we’ve been handling things with Esteban. I think we’re both grown up people now. We’re very much more mature, aware of the responsibilities that we have representing a team like Alpine and with the Renault group behind us.
“I’ve got no doubt that we’ll be able to work very closely and work really well to push the team forward. It’s going to benefit all of us. We’ve got to work well together and then we’ll push the team forward to perform in the best way we can.”
Ocon’s relationship with former team mate Alonso appeared to deteriorate over the course of their second and final season together last year, with the pair clashing multiple times early in races such as Saudi Arabia, Hungary and the sprint race in Brazil. With the arrival of Gasly into the team, Ocon says he does not feel his dynamic within the team has changed.
“Obviously it’s very early days. But in a way my work doesn’t change – I’m still working with my group of people, with my group of engineers, but also that’s all being sent to Pierre’s side of the garage,” Ocon explained in response to a question from RaceFans.
“When we are doing a simulator day, we share the information. We are one in the simulator – we’re not two. So in a way, that remains the same for me. It’s important to focus on myself and and try and fix the little details that we think can be improved. So it’s early days at the moment.”
Ocon echoes his new team mate’s sentiments and stresses that both drivers aim to put the team’s interests first as they try to work Alpine to the front of the field.
“We are never going to be best friends, but the important thing for us is to keep the flow going together, which creates debate, creates solutions with the team. That’s how it’s been in motorsport forever. The fact that the drivers working together, identify a way to work and then teams come up with some kind of revolution – that’s what we need to try and get from our team to be able to fight for the front.”
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