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‘We were going to be in the mix for points’ – Ocon rues missed opportunity in Australia after tear-off wrecks his race

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 23: 15th placed qualifier Esteban Ocon of France and Alpine F1 walks

Alpine’s struggles this season have been well documented and, while on paper their race in Australia looked like more of the same disappointment towards the back of the field, there was actually plenty of cause for optimism – at least on Esteban Ocon’s side of the garage, despite him coming home 16th.

The Frenchman had made it out of Q1 for the first time this season on Saturday, before competing with his midfield rivals for the opening stint of the race – until a helmet tear-off got lodged in his brake duct, forcing an extra pit stop that wrecked his strategy.

HIGHLIGHTS: Relive the action from a dramatic Australian Grand Prix as Sainz wins while Verstappen retires

It’s an issue that could have affected any driver on the grid, and in Melbourne, it just happened to be Ocon who fell foul of the small strip of plastic.

“It’s an unfortunate race as I’m the only one to do the three stops today because of that issue and we were running on for possible points today,” Ocon said after the race.

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Ocon reckons he was ‘in the mix for points’ before brake issue

“I was in front of Kevin [Magnussen], fighting with Alex [Albon], in front of Nico [Hulkenberg] as well so we were going to be in the mix for those ninth, 10th, 11th positions. It was going to be a fun race but unfortunately cut short with that issue with the tear-off.”

Both Magnussen and Hulkenberg went on to score more valuable points for Haas on a day where the midfield runners occupied three spots in the top 10, meaning Alpine are one of just three teams yet to score this season now. But Ocon remained optimistic after seeing signs of progress from the first couple of races.

READ MORE: Verstappen explains 'really weird' cause of early retirement from Australian Grand Prix

“Today and this weekend in general the car felt pretty good," he added. "I think it goes in the right direction definitely but that said it’s not a guarantee we are going to keep going in that direction so until we do it, yeah we need to take it step by step and see where we are in the next one.”

As for Pierre Gasly, he finished in P13 and cut a more disappointed figure after another race where he couldn’t extract much pace from the A524 – and was quick to reflect back on 2023, and the very different situation Alpine now find themselves in.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Williams FW46

Ocon was ahead of the Haas duo on track - both of whom went on to score points

“We tried with the strategy, tried to put ourselves in some stage of the race a decent position in case there is any red flag,” he said. “I felt like we did the best we could with the package we had, we were talking about it – last year I was fighting with Carlos for P4, this year he wins the race and I’m fighting for 13th.

“It’s not ideal but we know the situation we are in, we know we need to improve the car, it's the same as Bahrain and Saudi. We know we have to be patient until the upgrades come on the car. We know what we have got to work on.

READ MORE: Perez admits Ferrari’s ‘very strong’ pace in Australia took him by surprise as he eyes Red Bull fightback at Suzuka

“Obviously in F1 it’s going to take some time. Meanwhile we have to do the best we can at the track, try and capitalise on any opportunities and that’s what we’ll keep doing. I trust the team to find the solutions but it’s going to be a long year but yeah, we do need these upgrades to fight for better positions.”

There’s no word yet when Alpine’s first big upgrades will arrive, with most teams expected to start to bring smaller updates as soon as they can and those bigger packages once F1 returns to its homeland in Europe – which is just under two months away.

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