Alpine driver Esteban Ocon said that the team had managed to find near-perfect balance on Friday during the two hour-long Dutch GP practice sessions at Circuit Zandvoort.
The Frenchman, who recently clinched his maiden F1 victory at Hungary at the beginning of last month, was seventh fastest in FP1 but then leapt up to third quickest in the afternoon behind the two Ferrari drivers.
His time of 1:11.074s was just 0.018s off that of Carlos Sainz, and comfortably ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.
“Definitely the car felt very strong out there,” he told the media after the end of FP2. “It’s probably the closest to a perfect balance that we’ve had so far this year.
“The work we’ve done in the simulator has helped us in general to arrive and be ready with a good pre-event set-up.
“We keep tweaking once we arrived on the real track, but we definitely picked up things on the simulator that would have taken us some time to figure out here.
“So it’s a good job that we worked so hard in the sim and that the guys in the factory managed to put the sim so close to reality.”
Ocon suggested that the track’s current very high grip levels were helping with the Alpine’s balance set-up.
“It’s been a fun Friday and learning this track in a Formula 1 car has been awesome. It’s been high grip, a lot of Gs, undulation and taking on the banked corners, which overall has been mega fun.
“It’s been a pleasure to drive, it’s good fun and we hope that it will be the same tomorrow,” he added. “As a team it’s been a good day and we look quite competitive, but we know qualifying is when that counts.
“The car handled really well today and I’m sure there’s more for us to find. It’s a small track, narrow in places, and managing traffic in qualifying will be a challenge.”
Earlier, Ocon had received a formal warning from the race stewards but avoided a grid penalty after being blamed for an incident in which he appeared to push McLaren rival Lando Norris off the edge of the track in the final minutes of FP1.
“The close call with Lando Norris was a little close for comfort, but in the end nothing happened and we move on.”
As for Ocon’s team mate Fernando Alonso, the two-time former world champion also has a strong afternoon and was sixth fastest when the chequered flag came out although he was sounding anote of caution about the rest of the weekend.
“It was a good Friday,” said Alonso. “But we’ve been quick on Fridays and then not so much on Saturdays and Sundays so we still need to wait for tomorrow.
“But so far [the car] seems competitive,” he acknowledged. “The sessions were not trouble-free for anyone, and we saw a lot of red flags and so on, so I think still a lot of lap time to come for everybody – and the same for us.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy weekend and the traffic in qualifying will be difficult to manage,” he said. “We have to analyse everything now and make sure we’re in the best shape tomorrow.
“I do like the track,” he added. “It’s quite different in a few places and the banked corners are fun. The atmosphere is amazing too. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.”
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