Alpine: P4 target hasn't changed despite subdued start

© XPB 

Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer says the team's aim of finishing fourth in this year's championship hasn't changed despite its disappointing start to its 2023 campaign last weekend in Bahrain.

Alpine's results were a mixed back in Sakhir where Esteban Ocon qualified among the top ten while teammate Pierre Gasly inexplicably brought up the rear in Saturday's session.

On race day, Ocon's evening turned into an unwilling penalty-fest that concluded with a DNF, but Gasly put in a spirited drive to carve his way through the field and finish P9.

But it wasn't the start Alpine was hoping for, especially as rival Aston Martin – Szafnauer's former team – emerged in Bahrain as a force to be reckoned this season as a top midfield contender, or perhaps even as a top-3 team thanks to Fernando Alonso's podium.

For now, Alpine is focused on its own relative performance and on its deficit to the front of the field compared to last year in a bid to measure its progress.

"What we've got to look at is how close we were relative to pole from last year," Szafnauer explained.

"How close were we on race pace, and where could we have finished had we not had our operational issues relative to those: was it better than last year or not?

"Because what we need to do every year is catch up. And yeah, Aston made huge improvements and we've got to catch them too."

Ahead of the start of the 2023 season, Alpine boss Laurent Rossi said the team's minimum ambition this year was to finish fourth in the Constructors' standings, but closer to the head of the field.

Szafnauer says that target remains intact despite his team's subdued performance in Bahrain.

"I think so, we still have to do that," he said. "I can't remember where we were last year for the first race, but probably in a similar position.

"I think, last year, Alfa [Romeo] beat us here. Maybe even Haas beat us. I can't remember. Aston didn't, McLaren were close to us.

"So, although there are different competitors, we have to do what we did last year, and finish fourth and get closer to the top three.

"This race was not a normal race for us, we usually don't make these operational type mistakes. If we did have a normal race from ninth, I think Lance was just ahead of us. And the question to me is, if we had a normal race, could we have beaten them?

"I don't know that yet, but we've got to reflect on this and do better. It's not where we want to be, but I think we're capable of doing better."

Szafnauer admits that Alpine's troubled opening weekend means the team is still in the dark regarding the true pace of its new car, although Gasly's spirited drive in the race offered a glimpse of the A523's potential.

"We still don't know its true pace because of some of the operational things that happened in the race," Szafnauer said.

"Esteban had all of his issues that we talked about, Pierre was stuck in 19th for quite some time at the beginning.

"I'm looking at lap times and if you ever watch a race between the guys up front and the guys at the back, [in the same car] you can be two seconds a lap different just because of where you're racing.

"So, I still don't know where we are relative just because we're out of position with one car and the other car had the problems we talked about. I don't think we're far off.

"Looking at it from an optimistic standpoint and say if Pierre had started ninth, we would have beaten Bottas for sure," added the American.

"How close would we have been to the Mercedes and I think [Lance] Stroll? They were 16 seconds ahead of us, we need to have a look.

"Now we just need to outdevelop them so we can close a gap to those guys we want to beat."

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