For Esteban Ocon and the BWT Alpine F1 Team this week’s return to Monaco brings back happy memories of last year’s event.



Esteban started and finished third to log a podium result that no one could have anticipated before the weekend began, and he was backed up by Pierre Gasly in seventh place.



Pierre and Esteban had finished eighth and ninth at the previous race in Miami, but immediately prior to that the team had experienced a difficult weekend in Baku. It was thus hard to predict Monaco form, although Esteban was encouraged by his runs in the Enstone simulator.



“Our car felt quite good in terms of balance,” he recalls. “But the competition was very fierce, and I was not expecting for us to be that fast. That was very clear."



“However, I feel like you can make more of a difference as a driver in Monaco. And if you have a car that turns well, and that you can place where you want, you can perform, and get the confidence up.


“And that's what happened last year, I got the confidence very early from FP1, and I was able to push every lap, which I never had the ability to do in the past, apart from maybe 2021. I was able to go very close to the walls very early, and that made the difference to my weekend.”



On Friday Esteban was eighth in FP1, and 10th – just behind Pierre – in the second session.


In Saturday’s FP3, the last chance to set the cars up for qualifying, Pierre and Esteban were sixth and ninth. By now it was apparent that the A523s were strong contenders for the top 10, and indeed both drivers sailed through Q1 and Q2 and into the final session.



However what happened next exceeded everyone’s expectations. One of the first drivers to embark on his final run in Q3, Esteban suddenly went to the top of the times.


As he drove back to the pits and others completed their laps, he slipped down the order – he jokingly called it the “fall of death” afterwards.



"It was horrible, that moment!,” he says. “You see yourself on pole, you're like, ‘What's going on?’ It's amazing. And then everyone passed by after, and I was losing one place after one place. And it was so close that I thought what if I would have done that corner a bit better? But honestly, it was it was very good lap.”



In the end only Max Verstappen, Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc went faster. However the last named had a grid penalty, leaving Esteban third on the final grid. Meanwhile Pierre backed him up in a solid seventh.



Esteban had no regrets about not being on track right at the end: "I think it made no difference. I think for the track evolution there 30 seconds doesn't make very much of a difference.



“So no regrets on that, with a car that was not supposed to qualify well there. We did well on many occasions that season."



On Saturday evening and into Sunday morning the team’s focus was on how to convert that grid position into a podium finish. Given that Esteban had the likes of Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton and Leclerc lined up behind it was never going to be straightforward.



"I didn't think about that too much first,” says Esteban. “I thought okay, the biggest part of the weekend is done. In Monaco it's always the qualifying that you want to get through, and do it well, and then the race is just fun, it's just where you start. You enjoy the race, and that's what I tried to do.”


It was not an easy afternoon. Esteban was under pressure throughout, and the threat of rain added an extra dimension to the challenge on the pit wall.



“Obviously I would have preferred an easy race, being third and keeping third the whole time,” he says. “However, it poured with rain. Also Carlos hit me in the back, which broke my floor. I drove on slicks in the wet for two laps, and I boxed at the right time, looking at the weather.”



It wasn’t easy to get the timing of the pit stop right.



"It was super hard, because it was basically increasing, a little bit more, a little bit more,” he recalls. “And I remember asking the engineers if there was a little bit more rain, and if the rain was not going to stop, then we should do?


“And they said, ‘Yes, it's going to keep raining.’ I said, ‘Okay we box.’ I remember Carlos went straight down the hill after the Casino. And the same with George Russell, he went straight.


“We literally had to take that right hand corner and brake on the top of the hill, because it was downhill, and there was no grip.



“It was that early that you had to brake, you couldn't take any speed. So super slippery. It was close at one point in Rascasse, I lost the rear, and I was almost facing the barrier straight!”



Life didn’t get any easier after the switch to intermediates: “Then I had fight with Lewis until the end, which is what I also had in 2022. However that time I got a penalty for tough defending, or whatever it was. We touched quite a few a few times that year. So I remembered that!


“But this time, I managed to keep him to a good distance. But he was quick. And we passed the line in third place, and that was amazing. We didn't put a foot wrong, and optimised the weekend. For sure as a driver to be on the podium in Monaco is more than special.”



As Esteban notes the driver can have more of an influence at Monaco than other venues. However he’s under no illusions about the challenge that the team faces this year, despite making the points at the Miami street track.



"I think we need to keep our feet on the ground,” he says. “Everybody's going to work hard to try and have a decent car there. We obviously are doing the right things to be improving.



“We make baby steps, but a tenth can shift us from where we were in Miami to four or five places back, and that's a very different story. And some other teams have upgrades as well, which can make a significant difference.


“We need to monitor the situation, try and do the best we can. But if we see ourselves being in the top 10 every week, at the moment, that's not realistic.”