Azerbaijan GP: Preview – Alpine
The team is aiming for a strong result in Baku after the double disappointment in Melbourne three weeks ago. Technical Director Matt Harman addresses the aftermath of the Australian Grand Prix and outlines the team’s aggressive development plan for the next month.
How would you assess the season so far in regards to the performance of the A523?
Matt Harman: In terms of the end result from the first three races, we’ve not been quite in line with our expectations. The car, in general, has performed well and we’ve closed the performance gap to some of our rivals from last season, while fallen behind to some others. Each circuit so far this year has featured different characteristics and we are continuing to learn more about our package each time it’s on track. What is important is the fact our development plan is very strong. With the new regulations, we completed a significant amount of learning last year and we know how to extract performance as a result of that. Our plan is to keep developing the car aggressively, the first major step of which we will see this week in Baku.
What is the team bringing to Baku and what else is planned during the aggressive development plan?
MH: We are bringing a new floor to Baku amongst some other aerodynamic and mechanical items. We then have a further development at the following race in Miami and something further for Imola after that. This consistent thread will continue throughout the season with more upgrades planned at most events. In the short term, what we have for Baku, Miami and Imola is a reasonable step – though not as significant as some media speculation in recent weeks – and it’s important we keep this aggressive rate of development up if we are to keep moving forwards towards our performance expectations. Credit must be given to the work going on behind the scenes at both factories in Viry and Enstone in meeting development targets and finding the improvements to make the car faster.
Has the incident in Australia had any impact on the team’s plans?
MH: Clearly, we suffered some damage to both cars after the unfortunate incident in Australia at the last race. We’ve had to manage the outcome of that carefully and we’ve all pulled together quickly and reacted extremely well over this spring break to recover the situation. I’m pleased to say there is no impact on our development plan and strategy, which is thanks to the relentless hard work at both factories. Both cars are well prepared and ready for Baku.
How challenging is the Baku City Circuit?
MH: It’s a really interesting circuit and we have a new format to contend with for this year as it’s a new look Sprint weekend. It’s a bumpy street track with long straights matched with some slow speed corners in the middle of the lap. It’s always been a challenging place for car set-up but having a high-top speed to be competitive on the straights is very important, especially this year with the Sprint on Saturday. The one practice session on Friday will be significant and must be maximised in order to have the cars set-up in a good window. One of our strengths last year was accurate correlation with our upgrades where we could add items to the car, and they would work straight away. We will be counting on these strengths this season when we’re bringing updates on a regular basis.
Esteban Ocon has used the three week break to recover energy after an intense start to the 2023 Formula 1 season. The Frenchman sees the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend as the perfect opportunity to bounce back from the disappointment of leaving Australia empty handed last time out.
It’s been three weeks since the Australian Grand Prix. Has the team recovered from the result and how ready are you feeling ahead of this new race week?
Esteban Ocon: It was good to have a little break after the Australian Grand Prix to properly debrief after the race and analyse the weekend as whole. Obviously, it did not end well for us but there were many positives to take from the weekend, and we are fully focused on bouncing back strongly in Baku. As a team we’ve already been looking forward to Baku for a while now so we’re all glad this new race week is finally here. An upgrade is planned for this race too, it’s a slightly new format with the Sprint, so that means we’ll have to be on the pace straight away. We need a positive weekend and aim to leave Baku with deserved points for the team.
Formula 1 is back after this unconventional Spring Break. What did you get up to over the last three weeks?
EO: It felt strange to have this amount of time off at this stage of the season! To have three consecutive weekends without a race, other than the off-season and the summer shutdown, is not something we’re used to in Formula 1. It was very nice to be able to recover and reflect after Melbourne but also to allow the time to train and spend time on the simulator with engineers. I spent some days switched off from everything with family and friends as having those moments is also quite rare. This double header in Baku-Miami followed by the triple header is going to be very busy, but, right now, I feel refreshed and I’m raring to get back on track.
It’s another street circuit this weekend. What are your thoughts on the Baku City Circuit?
EO: Baku is a beautiful city, and the circuit there is very unique. It’s an exciting high-speed street track with very long straights mixed with some repetitive corner sequences. It’s always a challenge to find the sweet spot on car set-up and that challenge is only increased as we have one practice session before Friday Qualifying and Saturday’s Sprint. When you get it right in Baku, it’s a very rewarding track and it’s usually an enjoyable one to drive. It usually delivers a good show for the fans as there are many overtaking opportunities and the racing can be unpredictable as we’ve seen in recent years. I can’t wait to get back in the car on the streets of Baku and we are all looking forward to getting the race weekend started.
After leaving Melbourne feeling frustrated following a near perfect Sunday Grand Prix, Pierre Gasly has had his eyes firmly fixed on Baku for the past three weeks with the sole aim of coming back in style. The Frenchman has tasted success in Azerbaijan before including a fifth-place finish last season and a podium in 2021, as he looks to score well across the Sprint weekend on Formula 1’s return from an unconventional Spring Break.
How have you found the mini-Spring Break?
Pierre Gasly: It’s been a strange feeling not to be getting ready to race for the past three weeks. Normally, by now, we’re in the flow of the season, so to have a short break has been very welcome. It’s been a busy start to 2023 in new colours and I’ve used these three weeks to catch breath, debrief with the team on the season so far and keep our eyes firmly fixed on what’s ahead of us. I’ve spent a lot of time with family and friends; attended some football matches in London and Madrid, visited Monaco for tennis with Charles [Leclerc] and generally enjoyed having some time away from the intense nature of Formula 1. Now it’s back to business with five races in six weeks beginning with the awesome Baku City Circuit coming up this week.
How do you reflect on the season so far?
PG: I have mixed feelings after the first three races. It’s not been the smoothest first few months, but I’m relishing the challenge and, on the whole, there are so many positives that we can draw upon. I’m finding small gains each time I’m in the car and these things take time, but I’m getting there, and the results will only follow if we continue on this trajectory. Practice and spending time behind the wheel is so limited in Formula 1, so maximising every chance we have when we’re at the track is so valuable. Australia was a good step forwards even without the end result to show for it. I love being part of this team, there’s a great family feel about it and we must keep working together to achieve our goals.
What are your thoughts on the Baku City Circuit?
PG: The Baku City Circuit is an insane track for Formula 1. I love it there. We have an interesting format to get through and it’s going to be all about staying alive in both races and capitalising on any opportunities that might come up. I’ve had past success in Baku from just keeping it clean and taking chances – including in 2021 for my latest podium in Formula 1. You just never know in Baku… anything can happen! I’ve been to Enstone over the past few days and I’m excited by what the team is bringing and by what we have in the pipeline. It’s time to keep my head down, work hard and aim for strong performances that are rewarded with what we deserve!