The last race in Hungary paid high dividends for Alpine, as they secured a race win along with a top 5 finish with both their drivers. Marcin Budkowski has reflected on the team’s performance and was impressed with their strategic execution.
Esteban Ocon took the race lead as a result of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes’ misjudgment of pitstops. The race started on the intermediate tires because of the rainy conditions before the race. This coupled with a chaotic moment at turn one, which brought out the red flag and gave Ocon a shot at finishing the race on the podium. His teammate, Fernando Alonso did not benefit as greatly as he was fighting for P7 after narrowly avoiding the multi-car collision.
After the session resumed, all drivers exited the pits on the inters but could feel the track drying up on the formation lap. Multiple radio messages to the pit wall forced the strategists to rethink the ideal moment for a pitstop. Alpine was no longer thinking of defending their podium position and had to reconsider their strategy in order to ensure a one-stop race. Luckily for Ocon, the team’s strategist agreed with the idea of pitting for dry tires after the formation lap.
Budkowski explained the team’s thoughts before making their decision: “Honestly, there is no significant change. We knew we would restart on inters, and [then] we could put any tires we wanted. But we knew it was probably still a one-stop. We had got rid of the soft, which was the weakest tire here.
“And then the sun came out when we had chosen our tires already. And the track started drying very quickly. We’re all already committed to inters, everybody had, but then during the formation lap, the drivers reported the track was dry, and the strategist said we need to switch to dry tires.
“And it’s a tough one, you’re P2 and you take the start on the first row. Are you better off taking position?”
The decision was crucial as they were contemplating losing track position. However, the right call was made as every driver behind Ocon decided to enter the pits as well. This left Hamilton out on track, resuming the race on intermediate tires which proved to be a wrong decision as he fell back to the last position on the grid after his pitstop in the subsequent lap.
“Exactly. But it was the right call. Everybody did it, apart from Lewis. It was a bit of a surreal start with Lewis standing there on his own taking the start. But from that moment, we knew that the race would be good for us.”
Alpine and Ocon were well aware of Hamilton’s pace in the W12 but decided to deal with their problem one at a time as they had Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel chasing the Frenchman. This race was, by no means, an assured victory for Ocon. This was evident as Hamilton was moving through the pack effortlessly and entered the top 5 with approximately 20 laps remaining.
Hamilton’s next challenge proved to be much mightier than any of us would have assumed as he was set to fight his former teammate, Fernando Alonso for P4 before entering the podium positions. Hamilton’s pace through the race was assumed to have given him the race a win despite having lost it at the restart.
Alonso drove a splendid race in the closing stages to keep the Briton behind him with his perfect defense. Hamilton tried to get past the Spaniard lap after lap, but Alonso held onto the inside line at turns 1 and 2 making it nearly impossible for the Briton to go around the outside to steal P4. What was expected to be an easy overtake turned out to be the trickiest of the event for Hamilton. Despite Alonso’s best efforts to keep the reigning world champion behind him, an unfortunate lockup saw him lose his position to Hamilton with roughly ten laps to go.
This, however, was more than enough to help his teammate maintain the lead without any hindrance from Hamilton. A post-race radio message hears Ocon appreciating his teammate’s efforts as well.
Budkowski reflected on his team’s performance: “Perfect execution of the right strategy calls, the pitstops were right, the execution was perfect.
“So, I’m proud of the team here at the track, also massively proud of the team back in Enstone and Viry because we’ve had some tough years, we have tough moments.
“This year wasn’t exactly easy either from the start. And we’re there to take this victory. I’m massively proud of the work that everybody’s done, and it’s the team’s victory, really.”
Budkowski was also glad that his team was able to capitalize on their opportunities through the race.
“This time, it wasn’t us, but also this time we were there to take the opportunity. It was a race of opportunities. The previous ones, we weren’t there to take them. Today we were.”
The team sets their hopes for 2022 where they hope to stand a chance at fighting for more wins and maybe even the championship.
“We missed some of these before, and they were painful.
“Because sometimes you can see that you could have won a race, you could have ended up with a podium, and we didn’t. And today we’re there. There’s an element of luck, but it’s not everything. You can be a bit lucky at the start, and then you still have to deliver on it.
“As a team, it’s credit to all the work that people have done, but also the fact that these are defining moments in the life of the team. However, let’s not get carried away. We don’t have a race-winning car on a normal race weekend.
“And that’s our objective, is to build one, so we want to taste that champagne in every race, and not once when we get a little bit of favourable circumstances. So super important for the team, don’t get me wrong. The objective is to do that with by building a quick car.”