“Overperforming” floor and plank legality fears led to pit lane start for Ocon · RaceFans

Alpine say the new floor they brought to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix “overperformed”, though they were unable to capitalise on it.

The team endured a difficult weekend at the Baku City Circuit, where neither driver scored for the second event in a row.

The trouble began on Friday when Pierre Gasly’s car caught fire during the sole practice session. Alpine pulled Ocon in due to the concerns raised by Gasly’s stoppage, costing them more practice running.

Ocon nonetheless qualified 12th for the grand prix and 13th for the sprint race. However the team decided to make suspension set-up changes to his car under parc ferme conditions, forcing Ocon to start both races from the pit lane.

Race start, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Poll: Vote for your 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Driver of the Weekend

Alpine’s sporting director Alan Permane said the floor update produced the desired gains in downforce, but prompted concerns the team would damage the plank on the underside of Ocon’s car. The plank is a legality device which is measured after sessions to ensure it has not become excessively worn. If it has, the car can be disqualified.

“We were very concerned with Esteban’s plank wear, honestly, because we’d only had such a short period of time,” said Permane. “At the end of the full qualifying session it was looking tough.”

Opting to change the car’s set-up was a “very difficult decision” said Permane, but the team “were very worried about the car being illegal at the end of the race, or even before the end of the race. And that is a direct consequence of what happened in FP1.”

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However Permane drew encouragement from the effectiveness of its floor upgrade. “It worked as performed,” he said. “In fact, it overperformed a little bit. That’s a positive to take away from this weekend.

“It looks very much like we’re going to continue that trend of just being able to put things on the car without really having to test them too much, which is such a huge benefit, and something that we grew in confidence with last year.

“As more and more things come through, and we’ve got something in Miami [the next race], we’ve got something else in Imola. I’m not too sure where we are beyond that, but there’s definitely another tenth [of a second in performance] coming, then another tenth. So there’s good stuff coming in the pipeline, and having that confidence that it will work first time is great.”

Permane defended the decision to bring such an ambitious upgrade to a race at a street circuit where they only had an hour to practice.

“I don’t think it was ‘brave’, I think it was completely normal,” he said. “We’re very confident that our upgrades work. We saw that all last year.

“We can see within a few laps, although we only did do a few laps in FP1, but also everything looked normal. We also saw after the qualifying session the upgrades were fine, there was no risk to them.”

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He praised the “incredible job from the factory to produce three of a completely new specification floor from one race to the other.”

Pierre Gasly, Alpine, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Hydraulic leak led to Gasly’s fire

“We’ll have another one in Miami, so we’ll be fully up to speed on spares,” he added.

Permane confirmed a hydraulic leak caused Gasly’s fire on Friday, but said he was “not sure what caused it.” Alpine “replaced all the hoses” and examined the same parts on Ocon’s car, and Permane is “very sure that that is a one-off and won’t happen again.”

“You make your own luck with things like that,” Permane reflected. “We didn’t honestly do a good enough job. We had a hose fail on one car and gave us a huge fire. And we had a problem with the build of the gearbox on the other car.

“So I think Pierre did one or two timed laps in FP1, Esteban did two, or maybe three. And from there you go into qualifying. [Pierre] had an accident, which is unfortunate, but I think Esteban did a really incredible job in qualifying to qualify 12th with the car he had.”

Alpine have scored just eight points in the first four rounds of 2023. Only one car made the finish at Bahrain, neither did in Melbourne, and their best result so far is an eighth place. The effectiveness of the floor upgrade may have convinced Alpine they had the potential to add to its points tally in Baku, but they actually ended up “nowhere” on pace and “really struggled” to perform due to the Friday setbacks.

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“It really shows you have to be on your game. We cannot allow ourselves to have a Friday like we had, especially on a weekend like this,” Permane explained.

“You can just about get away with this on a normal weekend, but even then you’re still losing valuable preparation time. You’re still one session behind all the time. Every time you run the car, you find something, you improve it. So we can’t do that.”

Permane doesn’t feel the changes to the sprint race weekend format introduced in Azerbaijan exacerbated their problems. “I don’t think it being a new format sprint weekend is any different to last year’s sprint weekend,” he said. “You need to start off well prepared and just have a smooth weekend.

“We had that with neither car in FP1, and it snowballed out of control from there.”

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