Ocon dismayed to lose podium in final lap drag race

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A521 crosses the finish line in fourth behind Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W12. 05.12.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah
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Esteban Ocon looked on course to claim his third F1 career podium for Alpine in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at Jeddah Corniche Circuit, only to lose out in a dramatic drag race to the finish line with Valtteri Bottas.

The French driver - who won a similarly chaotic Hungarian GP from Sebastian Vettel earlier in the year and was previously runner-up in Sakhir at the end of 2020 - started from ninth and benefitted from early incidents, and from not pitting before two rapid red flags were triggered.

"We gave it all in that race," Ocon told the media in parc ferme after the dramatic finish to Sunday's Grand Prix. "The first two starts I gained four places."

He lined up for the first restart in fourth and promptly swept into second behind Max Verstappen. He was then handed the lead by race control for the next restart after it was decided Verstappen had gained from cutting the first corner.

Although Ocon was quickly passed by Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton once the race got back underway, he settled into third place and looked on course to claim a place on the podium - right up to the final seconds, when Bottas out-dragged him to the line by a tenth of a second.

"The competitor inside of me is disappointed to miss out on the podium by such a short distance," he conceded. "To lose that third place ten seconds from the line is very frustrating, but weโ€™re fighting in a different league to Mercedes."

Bottas himself had been impressed by Ocon's performance in the race: "Esteban drove great today, he was difficult to pass but I hung in there for an exciting finish," he said.

Ocon was also praised by the Alpine team executive director Marcin Budkowski. "What a race from Esteban! He drove exceptionally well and only just got beaten by a much quicker car on the line.

"He had a very good start and gained two positions in the first lap, then kept the pace up until the first race interruption," Budkowski added. He managed his race perfectly and really deserved a podium today.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A521; Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W12; and Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB16B battle for the lead at the second race restart. 05.12.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah
"Losing it for a few metres is a bitter feeling, especially since after the race we discovered he had picked up some damage to his floor on lap 48, which cost him lap time."

"Itโ€™s a frustrating end, as we had that third place for the whole race," Ocon continued. "It was quite fun to start on pole position, too. Iโ€™ve not done that since 2015 in GP3. But I knew my race was not with Lewis and Max in front.

"I let them go and they did their own race. The aim was to keep third place, and we did so until far into the race. Next time," he sighed. "What we did achieve is outstanding, and to take fourth place and add 12 more points in the bag in the championship is what counts.

"We took the right decisions in the race; we did everything we could on track and on strategy at the right moments, which put us in the best possible position to take big points.

"The team did an amazing job, the car was spot on," he said. โ€œIโ€™m extremely proud of all the decisions we took, everything was mega, spot on, but itโ€™s a difficult end.โ€

Regardless of today's outcome, Ocon said that the main team focus was still getting Alpine into a position where it can start to win races on merit in 2022.

Esteban Ocon (FRA), Alpine F1 Team 05.12.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah

"Weโ€™re getting there, we're getting where we want, extracting the maximum out of the car" he insisted. "Once we have that pace that the others have, we are going to be dangerous. Thatโ€™s what weโ€™re working towards.

"That said, the opportunity was there today and we can leave here with our heads high and feeling very proud," he said. "We move onto Abu Dhabi ready to finish the season on a high and take any opportunity that might come up."

Ocon's team mate Fernando Alonso didn't find the same good fortune and crossed the line outside the points in 13th place after his race was compromised by pitting under the safety car on lap 10 just before the first red flag.

"I think when the first red flag was waved the race was over for us," sighed the Spaniard.

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