Ocon made his full-time return to F1 in 2020 with Renault’s renowned work team, but struggled to match the form of teammate Daniel Ricciardo throughout the year.
A run for second place at the Sakhir Grand Prix gave Ocon an end-of-season boost that extended into the 2021 campaign, where he has so far led Alpine’s efforts.
Ocon qualified on the third row of the grid for the last two races in Portugal and Spain, and scored points in each of the last three innings, registering a better end of seventh in Portimao.
The Frenchman has also overqualified and beat his two-time world champion teammate Fernando Alonso in the last three races, leading Alpine’s charge as she sets out to join the top midfielder bout with Ferrari and McLaren.
Esteban Ocon, Alpine F1 at a press conference
Photo by: FIA Pool
Ocon’s performance and consistency this year has garnered praise from a number of paddock figures, with Alpine Executive Director Budkowski noting a milestone in his rider’s performance from last year.
“He’s improved over the last year and he’s been getting closer and closer to Daniel in qualifying,” Budkowski said of Ocon.
“Confidence is one thing – confidence in the team, confidence in yourself. The podium helped.
“He did a lot of work over the winter. He’s a much improved driver, and you can see it in the way he approaches the sessions.
“We made changes to their racing engineering team, we changed their racing engineer over the winter. [Josh Peckett replaced Mark Slade in this role]. He bonded better with his race engineer and his team in general.
Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
“It’s great because he can work a lot more constructively than last year. And then it’s confidence, it goes up, especially in this kind of qualifying burners.
“So if you have to put everything in place and you need that kind of osmosis with the car and the team, that makes a difference.”
After struggling in the first two races of the season, Alpine managed to take a big step forward in performance over the weekends in Portugal and Spain, comfortably appearing as the fifth fastest team.
Budkowski was encouraged by the progress Alpine made after introducing a series of updates, believing the step forward in Spain to be particularly significant.
“Honestly for me it’s more important than Portugal’s,” said Budkowski.
“Portugal were great because we were on the back of two disappointing races. There was pressure we were putting on ourselves to perform.
“The start of the season was not up to our expectations, so it was great. It was great for the team, it was great for the drivers, it was great for Esteban. It was great. for everyone to be there in the third row in Portugal, but we knew the conditions were very difficult.
“We knew we had improved the car. We wouldn’t quite know how much we improved it. Barcelona is not only a benchmark in Formula 1, in terms of where your car is located, it is also a circuit. which wasn’t really our favorite in the last few years, and we were particularly poor here last year.
“So it’s a combination of happiness and having confirmed and a little relief that the gains that we’re seeing are really there, and we’re making the progress that we thought we were making.”