BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — No one was busier than the Alpine pit crew at Baku City Circuit on Friday. After spending much of the day fixing Pierre Gasly’s fire-damaged car, they soon had a crash to deal with.
The twin setbacks — one car failure, one driver error — mirror Alpine’s all-round problems in Formula One. The French team with two French drivers is falling short of lofty ambitions.
Gasly pulled over to the side of the road in practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with flames licking out from under the engine cover at the rear of the car, followed by black smoke pouring from the air vents. Gasly watched on as the marshals extinguished the blaze with the ancient city walls in the background.
Gasly’s car needed a new gearbox and power unit, a tough task given there was only two and a half hours to the start of qualifying. Alpine also opted to cut teammate Esteban Ocon’s practice short to check his car as a precaution.
It was “touch and go” to get Gasly ready for qualifying, team principal Otmar Szafnauer told broadcaster Sky Sport Germany. After the speedy repairs, Gasly slid wide into a barrier coming out of a corner and damaged the car, leaving him 19th on the grid.
Ocon was 12th as Alpine missed the top-10 qualifying shootout with both cars for the first time this season.
That’s another blow to a team which was fourth in the constructors’ standings last year and set a target of closing the gap to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes this season. A “100-race project” laid out by CEO Laurent Rossi in 2021 gave Alpine a long-term goal of fighting with the leading teams for podium places on a regular basis by the end of next season.
Alpine has been underwhelming in terms of pace since preseason testing and has a best finish of eighth place from the opening three races. Worse, it has had to watch the surprisingly competitive Aston Martin team score podium finishes with Fernando Alonso, an Alpine driver last year, while Gasly and Ocon collided with each other at the last race in Australia.
Fortunately for the French team, Friday’s qualifying setback is less damaging in Azerbaijan than at most other race weekends. A sprint race on Saturday, with its own dedicated, shorter qualifying the same day, offers Gasly and Ocon another chance to fight for points.
The Associated Press