Esteban Ocon said he felt that he had repaid a debt to his Alpine team mate Fernando Alonso by helping the former two-time world champion finish on the podium in Qatar.
It’s the first time in seven years that the 40-year-old Spaniard has been in the top three at the end of a race.
Ocon himself claimed his maiden F1 race victory this summer in Hungary, with Alonso playing a significant part in that outcome by helping to hold up the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton at a crucial stage of the race.
- Read also: Brawn hails Alonso’s Qatar podium – ‘He’s in his element!!’
The situation was reversed in Qatar last weekend, with Ocon thwarting Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in the closing laps helping Alonso hold on to that treasured podium at the chequered flag.
Ocon said that he had been well aware of the situation and the need for him to play a full role once Perez dropped back having made a second pit stop on lap 41 compared with the single-stopping Alpines.
“Yes exactly,” Ocon said when asked if paying back his ‘debt’ was on his mind. “I came on the radio saying, ‘How far in front is Fernando’ and basically the team said ‘Oh you need to defend now.’
“I said, ‘Yeah, that’s why I was asking you guys! I’m aware of that situation’,” he laughed. “I wanted to do my best to try and slow down Checo as much as possible, for him not to be able attack Fernando towards the end.
“I slowed him down a good three seconds and that was what we needed,” he continued. “It was not as easy to defend as Budapest because the straights are longer and he was on fresher tyres, so it was a different set of circumstances.
“But I’m glad that I played my part and gave a little bit back of what Fernando gave me in Budapest.”
With the Red Bull a lot faster than the Alpine and Perez on fresher tyres, Ocon lost position to the Mexican on lap 47 but by now he was too far behind to close the distance to Alonso in time for the chequered flag.
Alonso went into the final lap of the race with a five second advantage, but by the time they reached the chequered flag that had shrunk to just 2.8s, emphasising the crucial contribution made by Ocon.
Ocon himself finished the race in fifth place giving Alpine a combined points haul of 25 points in Qatar, their best result since Ocon’s win in Hungary.
The team is now 25 points ahead of AlphaTauri in their battle for fifth place in the constructors championship with just two races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi remaining in the 2021 season.
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