Alpine: Alonso and Ocon can race each other if they don’t lose time

Alpine Formula 1 team principal Otmar Szafnauer will continue to let Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon race each other as long as they don’t lose time while doing so.

Alpine: Alonso and Ocon can race each other if they don’t lose time
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The pair traded places several times during a fraught battle in the early stages of the Saudi Arabian GP.

Szafnauer, who at one point was pictured on the pit wall with his head in his hands, admits that his main concern was that the pink cars were losing ground to those behind.

Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen were both able to join the battle, and as the former got closer Ocon was told to "hold station" in an effort to allow both Alpines to stay clear of the Alfa. The Frenchman was also asked to lift and coast to bring temperatures down.

However, shortly after the order was delivered, Bottas got ahead of Ocon to split the Alpines. Ocon eventually got back ahead of the Alfa, when Bottas had to pit with a temperature issue.

Ocon finished in sixth place, having fended off Lando Norris on the last lap, while Alonso retired with a loss of drive.

"It's a high-speed track here, the walls are close," said Szafnauer of the internal battle. "But look, they did exactly what we talked about before the race. And it was good for everybody. As it turned out had Fernando not stopped on track, we would have been sixth and seventh.

"And we would have given the fans, and we did give the fans, a bit of a show. And I think that's what it's about. You've got to let them race.

"It was clean, it's what the fans want to see. And we told them at the beginning we'll allow them to race. I mean, the only reason I did this [head in hands] was we were losing a little bit more time than I anticipated.

"And that's I think a little bit because the track specific stuff here, and a little bit because the cars can follow each other easier now, which was the aim of the new regulations.

"If you can follow easier, you can start overtaking each other, one lap after the next. So we've got to see how Melbourne goes, and then adjust."

Szafnauer said that the team will now have to factor in any potential time loss to those behind when allowing its drivers to battle.

"The only thing we've got to do is now assess what DRS does with these cars, because you can follow a lot closer," he said. "Before it was really easy to break the DRS train, and then off you went. So we just have to assess that."

Regarding the way Bottas joined the fight, he added: "That's exactly what we've got to look at, losing time only because it was so easy to continue to overtake here. And I think that's something new.

"When do we tell them to not start overtaking each other? Because it does cost you time. So that is exactly the trade-off."

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Szafnauer, who experienced several controversial teammate collisions when at Force India and Racing Point, conceded that there could be other situations where the drivers are asked to hold station in order to maximise team points.

"In all my time in F1, when I was in a position to be able to tell the drivers what to do, if at the end of the race 10 laps to go, even 15 laps to go, there is no value in swapping the two, meaning you can't catch the guy in front of you, and nobody behind you can catch the two of you, you hold station.

"But that's really hard to do at the beginning of the race, because you can't predict what's going to happen. But towards the end of the race if there's 10 laps, 15 laps, 20 laps to go, it is about maximising the team points. And if holds station means maximise the team points, that's what we'll do."

Asked if the let them race philosophy would changed if the drivers collided he said: "Luckily, they didn't. And that's a hypothetical thing. I mean, a lot of things could happen in the future that I can't predict. And like I've said before, if I could predict the future I'd be in Vegas now."

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