The 2023 Australian GP marked a tumultuous beginning for the Alpine duo of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, their partnership marred by a jarring collision that epitomized the "worst scenario possible," as Gasly aptly described it.
Having shed his AlphaTauri colors for the familiar blue of Alpine, Gasly joined forces with Ocon at the Enstone squad, their past karting rivalry casting a long shadow at the time over their collaboration.
However, ahead of the start of the 2023 season the pair put their past grievances to rest and vowed to work together for the benefit of Alpine.
But in their third race together, fans at Albert Park witnessed a disheartening incident that threatened to shatter their hopes for a smooth transition.
The pair came together shortly after the race's second restart when pandemonium ensued in the field.
Gasly, running in fifth position, had been forced to run wide onto the grass at the first corner to avoid hitting Fernando Alonso's Aston Martin. But when he came back onto the track he drifted right into the path of his teammate's car.
The contact sent both drivers into the outside wall and into a messy retirement.
“Honestly, it was tough,” Gasly recounted in a recent episode of F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast.
“On the flight back home, I was just sad because, to me, it was the third or fourth race of the season with the team, and I was fighting with the Ferrari, with the Mercedes.
“I had the podium in sight, with Lewis [Hamilton] and Fernando a couple of seconds up the road, but it was a big result that would kick off your season on the right path.
“Flying out of Australia after all the work and the efforts, with zero points, was the worst scenario possible with both cars in the wall.”
Back in Paris, Gasly and Ocon were summoned to Alpine’s top brass for a “clear the air” conversation.
“I have my opinion and it was a racing incident,” insisted Gasly. “It was just very much a big shame that we both ended up that way.
“I lost much more than he lost on that day with fifth place, which was up for grabs, but if it would have been anyone else, it would have been pretty much the same.
“We talked things out. We went to Paris and had a chat with [then Alpine CEO] Laurent Rossi. He [Ocon] had his opinion, I had mine, it felt like he could have backed out of it, but he didn’t and in the end we moved on, shook hands.
“We agreed between team mates we’ve got to take slightly more margin. I had no idea he was there.
“Could he have done things differently? Probably, but it didn’t happen and in the end that’s the way it was. We were fine, we just moved on, and focused on our job to get the best out of it for the following races.”
Despite the tensions that arose during in the wake of Austraian race, Gasly and Ocon managed to maintain a professional working relationship throughout the remainder of their team’s challenging campaign.
Overall, the pair delivered 120 points to Alpine in F1’s Constructors' championship, ensuring the team’s sixth-place finish. In the Drivers’ championship, Gasly and Ocon finished P11 and P12, with the former narrowly edging out the latter by four points.
Gasly acknowledged the importance of a harmonious team environment, emphasizing that an unhealthy rivalry between drivers could hinder the team's performance.
“I know for my team to perform, they need to work in a healthy environment,” he admitted.
“There cannot be an unhealthy rivalry between the drivers. That’s something I’m aware of and something I’m really trying to be careful with.
“Also personally managing Esteban and the way that we interact. If Esteban is not welcoming me into his own bubble, then fine, if that’s his way of working. I know I’ll get more out of him by pushing the team in the direction that I need him to push the team in.
“That’s why I’m completely fine with the relationship we have. I think it works well. I need my space, he needs his space, and everyone respects that. I think we both have a lot of respect for the drivers that we are.
“At the end of the day, I want to win, he wants to win. We’ve got to be hand in hand to make it happen.”