Esteban Ocon will be one of the main attractions of the French Grand Prix on Sunday. On the one hand because he will be one of the only two French on the track (with Pierre Gasly), and especially because he made the front page of the small world of Formula 1 this week by extending his contract until 2024 with Alpine. A long-term contract - only Charles Leclerc is committed so far with Ferrari - and a sign of significant confidence on the part of his team, decided to mark the occasion for the weekend on his land. “It's a chance to sign so early in the season, rejoices the person from Le Castellet. It was the best thing to do, I wanted to be certain about my future and especially not to find myself in the situation at the end of 2018. ”
Then Racing Point driver (ex-Force India) for two seasons, the native of Evreux had paid a high price for the game of musical chairs inevitable since the takeover of the team by Lawrence Stroll, who placed his son Lance at the wheel from of the 2019 season. A season spent in the shadows for Ocon, reserve driver at Mercedes and away from the paddock before arriving at Renault last year and then his first podium at Sakhir in December (2nd). His results and his extension so early in the season are all signs of a resounding revenge on fate for the 24-year-old. "The weight of a certain negative pressure disappears from my shoulders," notes Ocon, prowling the intense negotiations behind the scenes. I feel more relaxed but I'm not going to change the way I behave in the race. It's just one less weight,I'm very happy to be able to focus on the performance and development of the car. ”
An ambition shared with Fernando Alonso, under contract with Alpine until 2022, with whom the cohabitation is going "very well".
“We share a lot of information between the two sides of the garage, notes the French.
We manage to create good debates with the team and we push in the same direction. "
All eyes on the change in regulations from next season and the leveling hoped for from a plateau now vampirized by Mercedes and Red Bull.
Find rhythm on the track
Before, the objective for the Alpine riders remains to enter the points by hanging a top 10. Despite a happy sixth place for Alonso in Baku, the French team found themselves struggling on the urban tracks. . Particularly during qualifying, where Ocon failed to interfere in Q3 in Monaco and then in Azerbaijan, where he was forced to retire the next day. “We hope to return to the performance levels we were able to achieve in Barcelona (5th on the grid) and Portimao (6th), but we will see how the car behaves on the track. We are back to a normal circuit where we hope to regain our previous level. "
In this little game, the A521s regained a good pace during the first two free practice sessions. Fifth (Ocon) and seventh (Alonso) in FP1, the Alpine riders did even better on Friday afternoon with a fourth time less than 5 tenths off the benchmark time for Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and a sixth for Esteban Ocon , pointed to eight tenths just ahead of his compatriot Pierre Gasly. "The day of testing was very productive," Ocon said. Both cars are fast, it's very promising, but we'll have to keep working hard to consolidate this good pace. ”
With a view to making a success of his return to the Var and in front of the public (15,000 people on Sunday), he who will be keen to shine for his second GP of France (it was canceled last year). “In 2017, the announcement of the return of the French GP was the best news of the year for me,” he recalls. We missed it, France remains a great nation of motorsport. I have only had one French GP in my career and it's just great to be back there, this Grand Prix has a special flavor. ” All the more so in the event of a good performance on Sunday, when the weather forecast is for a rainy afternoon. And the Norman has never hidden his affection for these conditions. What to give it continuation in the ideas to celebrate its extension.