F1 team mate battles at mid-season: Alonso vs Ocon

2021 F1 season

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The pendulum has swung sharply between returning two-times champion Fernando Alonso and F1’s newest race winner Esteban Ocon over their first 11 races as team mates at Alpine.

Over the opening five races Ocon held sway, only losing out to Alonso in qualifying for the opening race chiefly because he was inconvenienced by Nikita Mazepin spinning in front of him during Q1.

But by the time the field arrived in Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix the champion was back on form and began a run of strong results. However this coincided with Ocon experiencing problems with his car, which led to his consecutive Q1 eliminations in both Austrian races.

A change of chassis in time for the British Grand Prix solved Ocon’s mystery problem at a stroke and he was immediately back on Alonso’s pace. In Hungary Ocon out-qualified his team mate for the first time in six races and his timing couldn’t have been better: A turn one crash wiped out most of the field ahead of him, Mercedes made their annual strategic fumble and the way was clear for the 24-year-old to take a shock win.

Alonso had a hand in this, of course, repelling Lewis Hamilton for 10 thrilling laps, demonstrating he’d lost none of his tenacity in his first race after turning 40.

The result propelled Ocon one point ahead of Alonso in the closest fight between two team mates on the grid. The fascinating question now is whether Ocon can sustain his revitalised form after the summer break and show he’s on par with a driver of Alonso’s calibre.

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Esteban Ocon vs Fernando Alonso: Key stats

Esteban Ocon vs Fernando Alonso: Who finished ahead at each round

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Esteban OconQ
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Fernando AlonsoQ
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Esteban Ocon vs Fernando Alonso: Qualifying gap

Times based on the last qualifying round at each race weekend in which both drivers set a time. Negative indicates Esteban Ocon was faster, positive means Fernando Alonso was faster

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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32 comments on “F1 team mate battles at mid-season: Alonso vs Ocon”

  1. Tough one to judge. Alonso despite being older, is one of the faster guys out there. But if I am honest, considering his age and his absence for so long, I was expecting Ocon to completely over shine Alonso until now and maybe the gap to close towards the end of the season. Despite winning a grand prix this season, I don’t think Ocon has ever seen as a potential to become one of the greatest. So, I wonder what the picture would have been like if Alonso was teammates with someone like Leclerc or Russel, or even Ricciardo. Maybe I am too harsh on Ocon, time will tell.

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      16th August 2021, 11:53

      As Alonso has pointed out, today’s Alonso would beat his younger championship self with one arm. :-)

    2. Alberto

      So, I wonder what the picture would have been like if Alonso was teammates with someone like Leclerc or Russel, or even Ricciardo.

      Leclerc and Russell are extremely fast but lack experience, and Ricciardo is in a low point of his career (unless he turns it around sooner rather than later). Many commentators here underestimate the factor of experience and overrate the importance of speed alone. That’s why many of them think that Alonso no longer could beat a driver of Verstappen’s calibre, what I seriously doubt. Fernando as he is now, after his readaptation process to feel comfortable in his Formula 1 car, is once again ready to maximise championship points in a way that few others ever could.
      Leclerc has been doing an amazing job at Ferrari but even so he had thrown away dozens of points on one or two big mistakes, and Russell doesn’t seem sharp enough in Sunday, particularly for race starts. Verstappen didn’t let the ball drop in a huge mistake yet this season but he showed naivety in some split second decisions at some occasions, something that we hadn’t seen Alonso doing nearly as much. So to answer the question of how well he would fare against those drivers as teammates, it’s easier if you imagine how many other drivers on the current grid would have scored 33 points in only 6 races with a lowly midfield 7th fastest Alpine. It’s clear now what Alonso can do in a top car, and as for Verstappen, he had a short stint in the midfield team Toro Rosso before his promotion to Red Bull, and the same is true about Leclerc from Sauber to Ferrari. And how many points Russell could score in a slightly better car? Those are the types of questions that are relevant for the topic.
      Being brilliant in a difficult car to drive is not an automatic certainty of doing the same on a top car, but it’s certainly a requirement for that. Especially without looking to points scored only but also to other fine measures, a driver must show stronger pace and performance than others to possibly become really world class, possibly reaching the status of great, the so called GOAT material.

  2. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    16th August 2021, 8:52

    Ocon has clearly improved dramatically within the team like we saw signs of towards the end of last season. Alonso is something else, probably the most naturally gifted driver I’ve watched in my time, it just comes so easy to him no matter what vehicle you put him in. Granted he’s probably lost a tenth or two in qualifying but he’s possibly still improving after the lay off. I’ve never seen a driver in his 40’s be so competitive, especially when you consider the calibre of talent on the grid now, Schumacher wasn’t nearly as sharp, Kimi is just a journeyman safe pair of hands. You have to go back to Prost 93 but you could argue that he had no real competition. Alonso has certainly fallen on his sword many times in his career and you could argue the only team he’s ever appeared comfortable in is Team Enstone but he is incredibly gifted.

    1. Keep in mind schumacher was still quite a bit older than alonso and didn’t compete during his absence and also had some kind of injury when he came back, but there’s no denying alonso performs very well considered his age, I think even at age 37 or so there were signs he would decline slower than schumacher, who imo was similarly talented. Raikkonen is indeed nowhere near, but even when they met at ferrari he wasn’t competitive with alonso, he had a really short peak.

      1. Schumacher returned at 41 years old, Alonso at 39, now 40, not that big of a difference.
        Schumacher had a bike crash that is said to have affected him somehow, but most of all, Alonso just seems more adaptable than Schumacher ever was.

      2. Raikkonen () had a really short peak.

        I’d say he had various peaks.
        Those peaks coincided when the stars of his talent and skill aligned with his mood (and sobriety).

      3. Raikkonen is indeed nowhere near, but even when they met at [F]errari he wasn’t competitive with [A]lonso,

        Kimi’s lack of competition towards Fernando may be related to the contract he’d signed with Ferrari.

        1. @drycrust Kimi’s poor form in his second stint as a Ferrari driver carried on against Vettel. He had strong performance driving for Lotus-Renault just one year before being paired with Fernando so it’s a rather curious one.

        2. @drycrust

          If you listen to the series 1 finale of the Bring Back V10s podcast, Gary Anderson and Mark Hughes provide a very good description as to why Kimi lost his edge post 2006. They believe it was primarily down the change in tyres, it didnt suit how he drove. Effectively, peak Kimi was 2005, after that, he never had a car that suited him. The post tyre war Bridgestones did not suit him, which is why Massa seemed to be closer to him.

          However, this is not an excuse, the best drivers adapt.

          I’d be surprised if Kimi had signed a deal that made him a “number 2” at Ferrari. Even if there was, Fernando was so far ahead of him at the time it would not have mattered.

          1. @jaymenon10

            Effectively, peak Kimi was 2005, after that, he never had a car that suited him.

            Except for two years (2012-13) driving for Lotus-Renault. Kimi was very good all-round on those seasons and made the most of a trait that he still has today, tyre management and nice strategy calls.

          2. @rodewulf I think Kimi’s 2012 and 2013 seasons are overrated. He had decent race pace, but would rarely maximise his results due to poor qualifying results half the time. He should have won way more than the 2 races he won in 2 years. We’ve seen since that Grosjean is not even that good of a driver, and even he would often outpace Raikkonen. If someone quicker had been in that Lotus, I don’t doubt they could have mounted a title challenge in 2012 and 2013.

          3. @mashiat

            I think Kimi’s 2012 and 2013 seasons are overrated. He had decent race pace, but would rarely maximise his results due to poor qualifying results half the time. He should have won way more than the 2 races he won in 2 years.

            I won’t dispute that. I agree he didn’t extract the maximum performance from that Lotus guise of a car anyway. Probably a driver with the talent of Kimi but in better shape would have taken that Lotus to the title fight until the last GP of 2012 or 2013 seasons. I’ve read he had trouble with alcohol back then and the team almost couldn’t get him to perform decently at all. Given all setbacks it’s a surprise he was better driving for Lotus-Renault than during his second stint at Ferrari and now with Alfa Romeo. He had his brain right to make good strategy work back then despite his addictions, more successfully than today.

    2. @rdotquestionmark

      Schumacher spent 3 years away from F1 in a period with arguably the biggest regulation changes in the history of the sport at the time. He returned and found a sport completely different from what he used to know. New cars in 2009, testing ban, refuelling ban, engine/gearbox allocation, simulators… and later in 2011 with the introduction of Pirelli high degradation tyres.

      Besides, he sustained serious neck injuries in a motorbike crash at 140 mph that prevented him to make a comeback to Ferrari in 2009. Michael had a serious injury to the seventh vertebra of the neck, a fracture of the first left rib and a fracture at the base of the skull, roughly the size of a thumbnail but in a place supporting the whole weight of the skull. There was also a hairline fracture on the left side of the skull. One of the two main arteries to Schumacher’s brain was also damaged which affected directly his reflexes.

      It was clear from the first races that Michael has lost his speed and reflexes and his ability to be right on the pace from the moment he jumps into the car. However his return at the age of 41 after such severe injuries to compete against the best is impressive to say the least. He had some moments of brilliancy like the pole at Monaco or the podium in Valencia in 2012. He wasn’t either off Rosberg’s pace who was a match for Hamilton and gave him a hard time over their 4 years stint as teammates.

      Given the circumstances, I think that Michael’s comeback was phenomenal though it was overshadowed by the fact that everyone expected him to perform like he did at Benetton and his early Ferrari years when he was in a consistent challenge for championships in an inferior machinery.

      Alonso on the other hand seems to be cementing his legacy as one of the old times great. While he is not the outright fastest man in F1. He has a rich technical repertoire and he has all the tricks. Defense, tyre management, strategy, consistency, racing awareness… He is just like MJ in Basketball, excellent in every department.

      1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
        16th August 2021, 20:55

        Completely agree @tifoso1989

        My comment seemed disrespectful of Michael but I actually thought under the circumstances he did well and had some special moments. 2011 he was a match for Nico (who has since been proven as a top level driver).

        1. @rdotquestionmark
          I don’t think your comments were disrespectful towards Michael but I wanted to clarify why he wasn’t sharp as you said, otherwise I agree with what you have said.

      2. @tifoso1989 Yeah, it’s already hard to remain competitive beyond the 40s (but not impossible like some thought) so imagine staying away not only from Formula 1 but also other racing categories for three years during massive regulations changes. Then his accident, so all odds were against Michael, and despite that he fared reasonably well, but of course not top Schumacherian form. As for Fernando, he spent two years away from F1 but keeping it sharp in other racing activities and not unplugging his continuous knowledge about the pinnacle of motorsport. Despite that he even had a serious accident before coming back as well, and it took some time to readapt in practice but his rebuilding of old Alonso peak form, becoming as fast as he was plus experience benefits is something remarkable to note. It just shows how serious he was and the size of his hard work. He probably knew he would come back and planned it ever since, or else it would be very difficult even for him to not “taint his legacy” rejoining F1 and failing to readapt to the new configuration of cars. Instead he seems to follow a relentless improvement trend that is enhancing his legacy even further, despite the initial lack of confidence on him coming from many people.

        1. @rodewulf
          Totally agree with you. There are so many top athletes that were competing brilliantly in their 40s. Tom Brady produced one of his best ever performances in 2017 when he was 40 and made an incredible comeback with Tampa this year at 44. Floyd Mayweather was mind blowing in terms of reflexes and physical condition at 38. Gigi Buffon at 43 was performing better than Szczesny last year, George Foreman kept beating younger champions on the ring till 48 years of age !!!

          The thing is the brain reaction time peaks at mid 20s and start to decrease in the 40s which is vital in a sport like F1. I agree with you about the fact that Alonso planned carefully his return by racing in other series and staying physically sharp. I think he may have lost 2 to 3 tenths on the young Alonso of the old days in terms of raw speed. However, his relentless consistency and improvement in every department is unbelievable. He himself has said that now he can beat the young Alonso with one hand.

          1. @tifoso1989

            I think he may have lost 2 to 3 tenths on the young Alonso of the old days in terms of raw speed. However, his relentless consistency and improvement in every department is unbelievable. He himself has said that now he can beat the young Alonso with one hand.

            Yep, I don’t doubt that at all! Raw speed is just one of the components of a Formula 1 driver anyway. Bottas, for instance, is decent over one-lap but his racecraft has gone terribly underdeveloped due to spending too much time unchallenged ahead without any real competition in an utterly dominant Mercedes for the last few seasons. He might have a good level of outright speed but close fights and tricky conditions seem to have doomed his performance overall this season.
            It remains to be seen if Alonso had lost a significant amount of speed during quali for instance but either way he’s currently more than compensating it with his well-known tenacity and race reading abilities. Those only become larger with experience.

        2. @tifoso1989
          I think he may have lost 2 to 3 tenths on the young Alonso of the old days in terms of raw speed. However, his relentless consistency and improvement in every department is unbelievable. He himself has said that now he can beat the young Alonso with one hand.
          Yep, I don’t doubt that at all! Raw speed is just one of the components of a Formula 1 driver anyway. Bottas, for instance, is decent over one-lap but his racecraft has gone terribly underdeveloped due to spending too much time unchallenged ahead without any real competition in an utterly dominant Mercedes for the last few seasons. He might have a good level of outright speed but close fights and tricky conditions seem to have doomed his performance overall this season.
          It remains to be seen if Alonso had lost a significant amount of speed during quali for instance but either way he’s currently more than compensating it with his well-known tenacity and race reading abilities. Those only become larger with experience.

      3. When Schumacher came back. He brought back everything he was know for. Unfortunately thy meant he still kept the old habits, including almost stamping Barrichello to the wall.

  3. This is the weirdest team for me to judge this season. Are the drivers over-performing, under-performing or delivering exactly what is expected? Sometimes they get to Q3, sometimes they’re out in Q1. It’s such a random car.

    1. @major-dev

      This is the weirdest team for me to judge this season. Are the drivers over-performing, under-performing or delivering exactly what is expected? Sometimes they get to Q3, sometimes they’re out in Q1. It’s such a random car.

      Both Alonso and Ocon were underwhelming at some stages of the season, and that was the main reason for them to bow out in Q1 sometimes as Alpine is a lowly midfield team expected to do better than that, but even then they made a bigger haul of points than drivers in the faster Aston Martin and AlphaTauri. This is because the Alpine lineup remained solid for more time than their rivals, at least when comparing teammates together (Vettel and Stroll never were consistent enough and just had flashes of brilliance combined with big mistakes of their own, and Tsunoda most of the time undo the progess made by Gasly’s reliable results overall in the championship). All in all the Alpine drivers are delivering exactly what is expected, but they’ve started such an improvement trend recently (most notably Alonso but to a lesser extent Ocon as well) that it might make them over-perform considerably and even challenge for the distinction of the strongest lineup on the entire grid as a matter of fact, despite not being the number one on paper as arguably that was McLaren’s, even though Ricciardo is unexpectedly underperforming.
      So it’s not a random car, Alpine improved gradually as a package along the season but their drivers varied in performance the most, for different reasons. After readapting not only to the Alpine car but to Formula 1 as well, Alonso took some time to get back to his typical swashbuckling form, and Ocon had a dent in performance nearly at the same time that things fell into place for his teammate, maybe bacause of bad chassis, maybe bacause of nervousness after a recently signed contract expansion. But both of them finally seem in their best shape at the same time now, for the first time this season.

      1. @major-dev, @rodewulf – it also seems that the team has had trouble understanding exactly why and how their car works best – they have been surprised by both better than expected weekends as well as sudden bad weekends in the first half of the season. I am sure that also plays a role adding to the swings in form between the drivers and making it even harder to read.

        1. @bascb Yep, to a certain extent the car had some “radomness” as there was surprises on how some tracks suited the A521 better (like Portimao) or worse (like Monaco) but in every GP they had a car which could have at least narrowly missed Q3, if one of the drivers found himself comfortable driving it and had a clean lap, as such in a matter of fact they did. Alonso was a dropout in Q1 at Monaco and Ocon was eliminated twice in Q1 for the Styrian and Austrian GPs with a lot of performance left on the table as they were not able to take it to the limit during those weekends. Given that, overall we see a slow but steadily improvement on the Alpine car that is starting to look encouraging, especially about Alonso’s race pace in Hungary. They’re making the midfield even tighter than it was in the beginning of the season, because despite closing in the teams ahead Alpine is still 7th fastest, even if they have already a win under their belts.

  4. Alonso will “help” Ocon now score points, but not for long. The last thing Alonso wants is for Ocon to beat him in points at the end the season.
    The last man to beat Alonso in the points was Jenson Button, and we all know it was down to reliability and some bad luck on Alsonso’s part. This year it’s more of an even fight when you balance Alonso being out two years and Ocon’s bad chassis spell, so you can bet Alonso will be making sure Ocon is not in a position to benefit from “teamwork” in the future.

    1. @david-beau

      The last man to beat Alonso in the points was Jenson Button, and we all know it was down to reliability and some bad luck on Alsonso’s part. This year it’s more of an even fight when you balance Alonso being out two years and Ocon’s bad chassis spell, so you can bet Alonso will be making sure Ocon is not in a position to benefit from “teamwork” in the future.

      Yeah, I’ve made a post some time ago after Ocon’s win. Some people are getting used to “nice guy mode” Alonso but its down on circumstances. Not saying he’s a bad person or dishonest competitor, far from it, but he is as fierce as it could get when it comes to racing. He’ll fight for dominance in Alpine when needed and make sure the one helping for big points at the end of a season if they were to fight for a championship isn’t him but Esteban instead. Again, not implying that Fernando would call team orders early in a season or that Esteban doesn’t have the qualities to remain in a title fight (I’m not sure about it but I’d enjoy that happening), but it’s very likely that retribution for the favour of holding a faster and grippier Merc in a race to allow the win for teammate will be swiftly expected as soon as Alpine is able to produce a really competitive car.

      1. Yeah, I’d say that it was clear from the moment the flag fell in Hungary that Alonso would praise his team, his teammate, but certainly not forget to mention his own teamwork.

        Now that he knows the car can win given the circumstance, surely that will be the best motivate him to push for everything he can find to be the one coming out on top and being in front the next time.

        1. @bascb
          Yeah, I bet he hadn’t it too much on his mind this year but now one can pretty much expect him risking more to maybe make use of an occasional safety car or something like that. His old and failed McLaren hardly could give him hopes of winning even in weird circunstances but now his Alpine does.

      2. Nickolas Smikle
        18th August 2021, 1:16

        Agreed. Actually, I don’t even think it was favour. It was just Alonso fight for his peice of track to get the podium for himself. It just turned out that it ended up helping Ocon and recognizing this Alonso played along with it to share a hand in the victory.

        Alonso is my second favourite driver next to LH44 and I know Alonso. And certainy he is not altruistic for the sake of it.

  5. Alonso / Ocon
    Points finishes: 8-6
    Total points scored: 38-39
    Qualifying average position: 11.3611.36 (Q3 appearances: 6-4)
    Race average position: 9.2-9.44
    Qualified ahead: 6-5
    Finished ahead: 3-5
    Laps ahead: 223-327

    I’m glad to see that generally the guys commenting here noticed how amazing has been Alonso’s drives recently, and despite being one point behind Ocon in the WDC he should be fairly ranked above him in performance levels. Not that Esteban is far from Fernando’s current level, they’re the closest teammates in fact this season, but El Nano has clearly an edge on his teammate and the stats above tell only part of this story. Coincidentally sometimes when Fernando was ahead of Esteban some incidents happened that distorted the mutually dependent comparative measures between teammates. For instance, Ocon leads Alonso 5-3 in races both finished, but in all remaining races (for the Bahrain, Azerbaijan and Austrian GPs) the Spaniard was in fact ahead of his teammate before any issues that caused retirements for one of the Alpine cars occured, so it could easily be 6-5 in favour of Alonso on merit. Of course it affects laps ahead as well, with Ocon’s early retirements in Baku and Austria II races when he was set to finish behind Alonso flattering him considerably on this department. Beyond the stats, it’s clear that experience is benefitting Fernando on an increasing basis as he gradually becomes one with the Alpine car, from quali sharpness to longer stint runs, notably also defensive displays in a race, so it’s not at all a surprise that he has been able to have stellar performances more frequently even still driving a lowly midfield car.
    That said, it shouldn’t take anything away from Esteban’s evolution as a young talent. It’s never easy with Fernando but if he could hold his feet against him that would already represent no small feat. No driver at least since Button in 2015 has been as close in performance while teammate to Alonso as he is now. The Alpine pairing seems poised to upset drivers in upper midfield and top teams once more this season, especially if the A521 continues to be pushed on that steadily improvement trend.

  6. I expected Alonso to ‘Vandoorne’ Ocon sooner rather than later, but Ocon has come back after his chassis change and is not so far behind as it was at one stage.

    But happy to see Alonso getting into his groove after a worrisome slow start. I expect by the end of the season the stats will be solidly in his favor.

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