P5 in Spanish GP qualifying confirms Alpine progress, says impressive Ocon

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Fifth in Spanish Grand Prix qualifying was "confirmation" of Alpine's recent progress, Esteban Ocon says.

After a poor opening round in Bahrain, the Enstone-based outfit brought upgrades to Imola and has continued to refine them since, bringing them back into the lead midfield battle with Ferrari and McLaren last weekend at Portimao.

Barcelona though is usually seen as the real barometer of how each team shapes up, so to narrowly miss out on 'best of the rest' was satisfying for Ocon and Alpine.

“This is the confirmation that we needed to have,” he said.

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“Coming here, everybody knows the track by heart, all the teams are fast. Coming after Portimao, we had a quick car, but we were not sure it was going to work here, and the car’s been great all quali, so I’m very pleased with the work that we’ve done.

“It’s been very solid and I feel great at the wheel, with the team that I have around me and back at the factory as well. Everyone was not satisfied that we were so far back [at the start of the year] and they’ve been working so hard and it has all paid off."

As for expectations on Sunday, Ocon was still cautious.

“I think Charles [Leclerc] was fast in race pace on Friday, that’s for sure," he suggested. "A bit gutted that he pipped me in the end [in qualifying], but it’s good to see that we can split them, we can fight with those [teams].

"It’s going to be a fun race tomorrow starting from where we are, so we’ll give it everything.”

The 24-year-old also outqualified teammate Fernando Alonso for the third straight race, but the double world champion wasn't too disappointed in P10.

“I think Q3 was the target. It was very tight on the midfield as we knew, and being in Q3 was an achievement, I think, from a team perspective with both cars," he said.

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"In Q3, it was a little bit messy with traffic and so on in the last lap with everybody.

“Tomorrow I think we have to do a good start, good first lap and try to consolidate these points.

"There is always an opportunity, races are very long and anything can happen, but I think realistically, there are not many places to overtake here. 

"We need to do a good start, be aggressive on the first lap, and then we’ll see.”

What may work against Alonso though is strategy, with tyres expected to play a key part on Sunday.

"It's going to be interesting to see which tyres the people behind choose to start with," he said, as the entire top 10 chose the soft compound for the first time this season.

"Obviously, P10 is not an ideal position because you start with old tyres from Q2, and you start on the dirty side of the grid so the start performance will be worse than the driver in P11 or 13.

"So I think it's going to be tough to get into the points tomorrow with this starting position but we will try to grab some points, if it's one, two or four, okay, as much as we can to help the team."