Formula 1 Racing

Ocon twice hit the wall in “too close” Saudi Arabian GP qualifying

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A523

Ocon ran to a strong sixth in qualifying, lapping the Jeddah street circuit 0.813 seconds adrift of polesitter Sergio Perez, who led the Red Bull charge following a driveshaft failure for Max Verstappen.

Alpine team-mate Pierre Gasly, meanwhile, was a further 0.3s slower to clock ninth place.

Despite track modifications for 2023, including pushing back the walls to open select corners and improve visibility, Ocon has revealed that he twice tagged the concrete barriers on his critical Q3 lap.

Ocon reckoned he had broken the car with the impacts, saying: “I’m still breathing in and taking my breath because it’s been a very stressful qualifying.

“The margins are so small and the amount of pushing and risk you have to take around here, it’s pretty impressive.

“I hit the wall twice on my fastest lap, in Turn 1 and in the last corner. I thought that was it, I thought I broke something.

“I kept pedal to the metal, thinking it would have been OK. I still improved… it was probably the maximum.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A523

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“I was happy with the lap, happy with how we improved the car from FP3 to [qualifying] because FP3 didn’t feel right and the way we want it. I hope we can give a good fight to the other cars tomorrow.”

Ocon added he had to “disconnect” from the car due to its instability, behaviour headed by a snap in practice when the car broke free through the high-speed Turn 22-23 left-right.

This, as part of other “close calls”, left him fearing a repeat of the car-breaking shunt experienced by Mick Schumacher at the circuit last year, which forced the former Haas driver to miss the race.

“There were corners where the car was a little bit more tricky than others,” Ocon said.

“I could not feel my confidence; I had to disconnect in a way and just go as fast as I could. [The car] was moving all around. It’s been moving for the last two days, really.

“I’m happy qualifying is behind us. The car has been floating in high speed. There was a lot of movement and I got too many close calls this weekend.

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“In FP3 I had a big one. It was very close to Mick last year, and like I did also last year and in quali again.

“It’s time to push the limits and it’s normal you get close but it was pushed a little bit too far.”

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