Alpine: Ocon "a significantly improved driver" in 2021

Esteban Ocon has become a "significantly improved driver" after working hard over the winter to build his confidence, according to Alpine Formula 1 co-chief Marcin Budkowski.

Alpine: Ocon "a significantly improved driver" in 2021
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Ocon made his full-time return to F1 in 2020 with Renault's since-rebranded works squad, but struggled to match teammate Daniel Ricciardo's form through the year.

A run to second place at the Sakhir Grand Prix offered Ocon a late-season boost that has carried through to the 2021 campaign, where he has so far led Alpine's efforts. Ocon qualified on the third row of the grid for the last two races in Portugal and Spain, and scored points in each of the last three rounds, recording a best finish of seventh at Portimao.

The Frenchman has also outqualified and beaten two-time world champion teammate Fernando Alonso in the last three races, leading Alpine's charge as it bids to join the upper-midfield fight with Ferrari and McLaren.

Ocon's performances and consistency this year have drawn praise from a number of paddock figures, with Alpine executive director Budkowski noting a step in performance from his driver compared to last year.

"He improved throughout last year, and he was getting closer and closer to Daniel in qualifying," Budkowski said of Ocon. "Confidence is one thing - confidence in the team, confidence in himself. The podium did help.

"He did a lot of work during the winter. He is a significantly improved driver, and you can see it in the way he approaches the sessions. We made changes to his race engineering team, we changed his race engineer over the winter [Josh Peckett replaced Mark Slade in this role]. He's bonding better with his race engineer and his team overall.

"That's great, because he can work in a much more constructive way than he was able to last year. And then it's confidence, it builds up, especially in these kind of qualifying burners.

"So if you have to put everything together and you need this kind of osmosis with the car and the team, this makes a difference."

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After struggling in the opening two races of the season, Alpine managed to take a big step forward in performance over the Portugal and Spain weekends, appearing to comfortably run as the fifth-fastest team.

Budkowski was encouraged by the progress that Alpine had made after introducing a series of updates, believing the step forward in Spain was particularly significant.

"Honestly for me, it's more important than the Portugal one," Budkowski said. "Portugal was great, because we were on the back of two disappointing races. There was pressure that we were putting on ourselves to perform.

"The beginning of the season wasn't up to our expectations, so it was great. It was great for the team, it was great for the drivers, it was great for Esteban. It was great for everybody to be there on third row in Portugal, but we knew the conditions were very tricky.

"We knew we improved the car. We wouldn't quite know how much we improved it. Barcelona not only is a benchmark in Formula 1, in terms of where your car is, it's also circuit that wasn't really our favourite in the last few years, and we were particularly poor here last year.

"So it's a combination of happiness and having confirmed and a bit of relief that actually the gains we're seeing are actually there, and we are making the progress we thought we were making."

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