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Formula 1 Monaco GP

Why Ocon's 'not a team player' reputation exists - and how he can fix it

Esteban Ocon's clumsy attempt to pass Alpine Formula 1 team-mate Pierre Gasly at Portier on the Monaco Grand Prix's first lap invoked the ire of team principal Bruno Famin.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524

The incident, where Ocon tried to barge his way past Gasly, proved terminal for the aggressor as his car became briefly airborne and caused damage that could not be repaired during the red flag. It very nearly took Gasly out of the race too, as he sustained a puncture and suspension damage; thankfully for the ex-AlphaTauri driver, this was sorted out during the 40-minute stoppage.

Famin warned of "consequences" for Ocon, stating to Canal+ that "Esteban's dive was completely out of place, it was exactly what we didn't want to see." For a team struggling to score points this season, it was a move that very nearly cost a valuable 10th place. 

Alpine is now understood to be mulling over its options to ensure no further outbreaks of contention occur between the two. This could be anything from an accord between drivers to Ocon being benched for at least a race to lay down a marker.

That Alpine and Famin are even willing to consider "drastic action" hints at how bad things have become between its two drivers. It was always assumed that partnering Ocon and Gasly together, two drivers with a long-documented adversarial relationship, would always come to blows eventually.

Their relationship is one aspect to consider, but it also cements a criticism of Ocon that he has struggled to shake in his time as an F1 driver: that he struggles to be a team player.

Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Alpine

Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Alpine

Photo by: Alpine

After Ocon's impressive debut runs with backmarkers Manor in 2016, he moved into a Force India drive for 2017 to partner Sergio Perez at the squad. Although their partnership initially seemed harmonious, it took a turn in the aftermath of that year's Canadian Grand Prix: Ocon felt that Perez should have let him through to challenge Daniel Ricciardo ahead, while Perez asserted that he was attempting to pressure the Australian into making a mistake.

Two weeks later, Ocon shoved Perez into a wall at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and put the Mexican out on the spot: Perez reckoned that, given the way the race panned out, Force India might have had a shot at securing its first-ever victory. 

Later in the season, the two made contact again at Hungary, and then twice at the Belgian Grand Prix: Perez accepted full blame for the first bout of wheel-banging on the run to Eau Rouge, but felt Ocon had been "too much on the limit" in their lap 28 clash on the exit of La Source. Force India banned the two from racing each other again for the rest of the year.

That rule was reinstated after their Singapore 2018 clash, when Ocon tried to sweep Perez around the outside of Turn 3 - and again, the two banged wheels. Ocon was the one that came worst off in that instance, but it's hard to consider another team-mate pairing racing each other as hard. Perez later admitted that he and Ocon had never got on particularly well as team-mates.

Esteban Ocon, Racing Point Force India VJM11, Sergio Perez, Racing Point Force India VJM11 and Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team VF-18

Esteban Ocon, Racing Point Force India VJM11, Sergio Perez, Racing Point Force India VJM11 and Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team VF-18

Photo by: Manuel Goria / Motorsport Images

There was no real chance for Ocon to come to blows on track with Daniel Ricciardo in their year together as Renault team-mates, partly because the Australian was more often than not much further ahead, but there were flashpoints when Fernando Alonso rejoined the team for 2021.

Alonso initially showed willingness to work with Ocon in their first year together as the team transitioned to the Alpine name. The Spaniard notably put up a strong defence against Lewis Hamilton to help Ocon claim his first F1 win at Hungary, but the roles were not reversed the following year: he took a dim view of being blocked by his team-mate at the start of the 2022 edition of the Hungaroring race. 

The two-time F1 world champion was already less than pleased by Ocon's willingness to almost shove him into the wall in Jeddah, and when the two battled during the Brazil sprint race, Ocon guided his team-mate off-track at Descida do Lago and Alonso slid sideways on the kerbs. Alonso responded by attempting a pass on the ascent to the start-finish straight, but did so too late and knocked his front wing off.

Although Alonso accepted the blame, he felt aggrieved by Ocon's defences throughout the year. When asked if the two would talk things out after the Brazil race, Alonso delivered a stinging riposte: "No, not really, I don't need to. One more race and it's over, finally."

Esteban Ocon, Alpine F1 Team, Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal, Alpine F1, and Fernando Alonso, Alpine F1 Team

Esteban Ocon, Alpine F1 Team, Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal, Alpine F1, and Fernando Alonso, Alpine F1 Team

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

Now, Ocon seems to be enveloped in another poor intra-team relationship, a theme that persists throughout his F1 career. It remains to be seen what Famin will do, and it's likely that he'll read his two drivers the riot act and ban them from racing each other if they can't do so sensibly.

If Ocon gets benched, not only could it be death knell for his time at Alpine, but might also take him out of the running for other drives on the grid. Of the teams with seats available, the likes of Sauber and Haas have been known to be interested - but his perceived avoidance in playing the team game might begin to repel their interest.

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Ocon has spoken previously about not wanting to be left on the 2025 driver market sidelines, as he was in 2019. Key to that is demonstrating that he can work with Gasly and take a more circumspect approach over the rest of the season. He doesn't need to swing too far the other way and acquiesce completely to his team-mate - but sometimes, discretion is the better part of valour.

Mending bridges with Gasly would be a start and, if he can turn the corner and show that they can combine harmoniously for the good of the team, Alpine might feel sufficiently enfranchised to keep them both on. If not, it feels like Ocon might be the driver more likely to be disposed of for 2025.

Watch: F1 2024 Monaco GP Review – Leclerc Finally Breaks the Curse

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