No one was busier than the Alpine pit crew at Baku City Circuit on Friday after spending much of the day fixing Pierre Gasly’s fire-damaged car, they soon had a crash to deal with.
The twin setbacks – one car failure, one driver error – mirror Alpine’s all-around problems in Formula 1. The French team with two French drivers is falling short of lofty ambitions. Gasly pulled over to the side of the road in FP1 for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with flames licking out from under the engine cover at the rear of the car, followed by black smoke pouring from the air vents.
Gasly watched on as the marshals extinguished the blaze with the ancient city walls in the background. His car needed a new gearbox and power unit, a tough task given there were only two and a half hours to the start of qualifying. Alpine also opted to cut teammate Esteban Ocon’s practice short to check his car as a precaution.
It was “touch and go” to get Gasly ready for qualifying, team principal Otmar Szafnauer told broadcaster Sky Sport Germany. After the speedy repairs, Gasly slid wide into a barrier coming out of a corner and damaged the car, leaving him 19th on the grid.
No Q3 for Alpine drivers for the first time this season
Ocon was 12th as Alpine missed the top-10 qualifying shootout with both cars for the first time this season. That’s another blow to a team which was fourth in the constructors’ standings last year and set a target of closing the gap to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes this season.
A “100-race project” laid out by CEO Laurent Rossi in 2021 gave Alpine a long-term goal of fighting with the leading teams for podium places on a regular basis by the end of next season. But they have been underwhelming in terms of pace since preseason testing and has a best finish of eighth place from the opening three races.
Worse, it has had to watch the surprisingly competitive Aston Martin team score podium finishes with Fernando Alonso, an Alpine driver last year, while Gasly and Ocon collided with each other at the last race in Australia.
Team boss Otmar Szafnauer said in the team report: “It’s been a frustrating day for the team and one we’re aiming to move on from very quickly. On Pierre’s side, it’s been especially unfortunate with the hydraulic leak and car fire in Practice followed by his off in Q1.”
Szafnauer: I’m confident we will bounce back
The Alpine TP added: “The mechanics worked expeditiously to fix his car after FP1 to make sure he could be in Qualifying; so, credit to them for their fantastic work. With Esteban’s minor issue and the lack of running in Practice between both cars, we did not get enough running on the various tyres in our preparation.
“I think that has impacted us significantly today. On a street circuit, you need both time and knowledge to make the right set-up changes and that just was not possible today due to our issues. We’ll debrief as a team to move forwards from this.
“We have the Sprint Shootout [Saturday] with points on offer in the Sprint Race in the afternoon and we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure Saturday is much better than today. I’m confident we will bounce back,” insisted Sazafnauer.
Fortunately for the French team, Friday’s qualifying setback is less damaging in Azerbaijan than at most other race weekends. A sprint race on Saturday, with its own dedicated, shorter qualifying the same day, offers Gasly and Ocon another chance to fight for points.