Written by Annabelle Spiers, Edited by Ishani Aziz
Pierre Gasly will make up one half of Alpine’s 2023 line up alongside Esteban Ocon. The Frenchman will replace Fernando Alonso who himself will shift to Aston Martin next year. What makes Alpine’s all-French pair intriguing, is the well-known feud between them. To the extent that questions have been raised over how the pair’s relationship may affect their driving. But where has this potential rivalry come from, and will its effects actually bleed out into the paddock?
The pair grew up together in Normandy, meeting through the world of karting when Ocon’s father bought a go-kart from one of Gasly’s brothers. They quickly became firm friends due to their shared passion for racing. They trained together and spent time together both on and off the track. Both showed promise and began to race against each other in many of the junior categories including the European championships and national championships.
However, with both drivers racing in the same circuits, collisions became an inevitability. Most notable was during the 2010 Karting World Cup, where some contact resulted in both Gasly and Ocon’s karts off the track; this sparked a feud that would go on to haunt the drivers reputations throughout their careers. Gasly has always been more outspoken about their relationship; speaking on the Beyond The Grid podcast he stated he was “waiting for apologies from [Ocon’s] side that never really came”. Both have of course remained professional on the track but would not be described as friends. Interestingly, Ocon was rumoured to be extremely vocal in advocating his known friend Mick Schumacher for the remaining Alpine seat.
Their strained relationship may not be the only issue for the Alpine team. The driver pairing is such that both Gasly and Ocon come out quite similar in their credentials thus far. Each has a singular win (Ocon in Budapest 2021, Gasly in Monza 2020) and at the time of writing are separated by 55 points. With a relatively small difference between them, the all important question of which becomes the first driver and which the second, is raised. Generally speaking, successful Formula 1 teams have begun to subtly install a hierarchy in which one driver is given precedence. With Ocon and Gasly being matched so closely in age, experience, and credentials, that decision becomes somewhat blurred. It would be practical, given Ocon’s extensive experience with the team already, that he be put forward, but Gasly is undoubtedly the lead in Alpha Tauri, and may expect the same treatment at his new garage. So it seems the scene could be set for some slight tensions to occur.
On the other hand, one could argue that Alpine have a pairing that have known each other since childhood, and will therefore push one another to perform better. Such was the case with McLaren while Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris raced together. Perhaps having a pairing with such similar backgrounds and experience adds competitiveness and therefore drive to the team that, as long as they avoid tangling on track, could result in great points for Alpine.
Both the drivers and the Alpine team appear to be extremely positive about the pairing. It is certainly an excellent marketing opportunity, and adds to the national pride of the team. Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer certainly isn’t worried:
“They’ve known each other for a very long time and they’ve raced together. They’re about as equally experienced, they’re both very fast and both ambitious, so I think they’ll work well together.”
Gasly has appeared to put the past behind him, stating, “It definitely feels like closing a chapter and starting a new journey. For me, I must say, it seemed natural and very quickly the right decision to make.”
Ocon shared a similarly patriotic statement on Instagram, “We were just two little kids from Normandy with an impossible dream. And now we will be teammates in Formula 1. Welcome to the Alpine family Pierrot, let’s make our team and country proud.”
It remains to be seen whether the pairing will be the next step Alpine needed to take to progress up the midfield. Regardless, Gasly and Ocon’s dynamic will certainly make for exciting racing in 2023.