An already enthralling Formula One silly season in 2024 has taken another twist, with the announcement that Esteban Ocon and Alpine would be parting ways at season’s end, concluding the Frenchman’s five-year stint with the French manufacturer.

Twenty-seven-year-old Ocon will leave the Enstone outfit at the conclusion of his current contract, having won the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2021 – which is Alpine/Renault’s only win since returning to F1 in 2016 – as well as a pair of podiums.

The announcement coming in the wake of the chaotic Monaco Grand Prix weekend for Alpine, where Ocon once again came to blows with teammate Pierre Gasly – prompting team boss Bruno Famin to threaten ‘consequences’ for the Frenchman – surprisingly had no bearing on this decision, given his contract was up.

Who Alpine replace Ocon with though is key and while established names such as Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz have been linked to the boutique French marque – its future lies within its young driver’s programme.

Twenty-one-year-old Aussie Jack Doohan is the most prominent name currently in Alpine’s stable of junior drivers, which has ironically not seen any of its drivers get a full-time berth with the team since Ocon himself joined in 2020.

(Photo by Michael Potts/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

The only headlines made regarding an Alpine junior driver in the recent past was the tumultuous and laughable contract saga triggered by the organisation’s mismanagement of prodigy Oscar Piastri – who was swooped up by McLaren and now finds himself piloting race-winning machinery in his sophomore season.

Despite miring at the rear of the field, with only two points from eight rounds so far and falling far from the grace of finishing fourth overall in 2022, Alpine can save some grace and hand the opportunity to Doohan for 2025.

“I want to be on the grid in 2025. So, I’ll stay with [Alpine], keep working and making sure that when I’m in the car I’m performing – whenever that is, FP1s or testing – to give myself the best shot to get comfy in this [paddock] for a full season,” were Doohan’s words following the post-season test in Abu Dhabi last December.

That commitment to secure an F1 seat for 2025 has seen the son of five-time grand prix motorcycling world champion legend Mick Doohan forgo any racing opportunities in 2024 – to solely focus on the extensive testing programme set by employer Alpine.

A similar programme of simulator work and testing of two-year-old machinery as stipulated in the current regulations to what countryman Piastri undertook in 2022 while also sitting on the sidelines as Alpine’s reserve driver.

Though unlike with Piastri, Alpine’s prerogative ought to be rewarding that commitment and development coming from Doohan. With Gasly only having been signed by Alpine in 2023, the Frenchman still has eyes to provide a fresh perspective in guiding the team post-Ocon. Partner him with Doohan and then that could be a reliable line-up that is less likely to trigger negative headlines like the fractured timebomb of a relationship between Ocon and Gasly has.

Doohan being on the fringe and his commitment alone to Alpine is deserving of that opportunity, even if critics might not see anything Hollywood regarding his junior career to date. The Aussie was second in F3 back in 2021, before spending two seasons in F2 – with a best championship finish of third behind Theo Pourchaire and Frederik Vesti in 2023.

There were three wins in feature races last year, two of which coming from pole position, too – including that dominant display at the season-ending Abu Dhabi round.

Signing Doohan could be a positive statement of intent from the beleaguered manufacturer, who again have had questions asked about their commitment to Formula One. As documented by this column last year upon the departures of then-team boss Otmar Szafnauer and long-time sporting director Alan Permane, the revolving door of personnel shows something is lacking at Enstone and Viry-Chatillon.

“The rumours and stories about the team being for sale are false. The team is categorically not for sale,” said a team statement in April regarding speculation over a possible sale.

If that is indeed the case and Alpine/Renault intend on hanging around, then committing to their junior driver might be the most committed decision they’ve made since their return to F1 as a manufacturer team in 2016.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *