Alpine F1 battle shows what McLaren must fix in 2023

But it was from here that Alpine found its groove as its development program bore fruit and race after race shattered McLaren’s lead, with the Canadian and Belgian races being particularly helpful as their performance requirements matched Alpine’s design philosophy for top speed.

However, another string of Alpine retirements at the Italian and Singapore races gave McLaren a brief glimmer of hope before much of that was dashed thanks to a strong double-points result from the Alpine duo in Japan. But before the last races of the season things remained tight. More mechanical problems and McLaren could have kept P4 for another year.

But it was McLaren who packed up early towards the end of the season at the penultimate race in Brazil. Contact on the first lap ended Ricciardo’s race, while an ailing Norris was involved in a collision with Charles Leclerc and had steering problems before his car lost power mid-race.

This gave Alpine the margin they needed to finish 4th before the final race of the season. All it realistically had to do was see the checkered flag.

A story of two McLaren drivers

Diagram 2 points contribution

McLaren vs Alpine 2022 F1 driver's points contribution

Just one look at the table above, which shows how many points each driver contributed to the team’s overall result, shows Ricciardo’s tough season.

Lando Norris provided the lion’s share of McLaren points. Alpine had a reasonably even contribution from both riders to the team result.

Alpine’s strong driver combination – albeit hampered by reliability – was a more favorable combination than one above and one below average driver and this deserves further investigation.

Top 10 out of reach for Ricciardo

Diagram 3 qualification results

McLaren vs Alpine 2022 F1 Qualifying Split

Diagram 3 shows the spread of qualifying results after rain-affected sessions. The white line shows the full range of results. The colored sections show the middle 50% of the results.

Norris was the top qualifier when he took the median average and secured the highest starting position throughout the year, but this was offset by his teammate whose median qualification was outside the top 10.

In contrast, Alpine had both riders in the top ten in an average race.

Where McLaren fought

Diagram 4 Qualifying pace comparison

McLaren vs Alpine 2022 F1 qualifying pace comparison

In terms of absolute pace, Norris’ performances are most striking and it’s notable that his best laps have been in Monaco and Hungary, while his worst have been in places like Belgium and Austria (where technical issues were directly responsible for Norris’ pace also Ricciardo to fight more than usual this weekend).

The commonality here is a reliance on performance and the effects of drag – which serves as an endorsement of the car’s performance difficulties.

Ricciardo was consistently behind his teammate when it came to single lap pace. There were a few moments of outperformance, but they were nothing special.

Alpine’s performances have been more upside down, with Alonso being the more consistent of the two. When Ocon was fast, he was fast, but his pace was erratic.

Interestingly, Alpine had its best performances where McLaren struggled at the performance-based tracks, but the car could still perform well at tracks like Hungary, suggesting the Alpine was a car with a wider operating window. This, combined with a stronger driver duo, gave Alpine the lead over McLaren.

Pace left on the table

Diagram 5: Distance to the perfect lap

McLaren vs Alpine 2022 F1 qualifying pace left

See how close each driver came to their “perfect” lap (calculated by adding up the best sector times recorded in their car). Norris is the standout performer based on his median average.

This is partly due to his strong performances, but also partly due to the lack of competition from his teammate. Norris’ sectors account for most of McLaren’s ‘perfect’ lap times.

Of the rest of the field, the Alpine duo had the smallest gap to the team’s “perfect” lap. This suggests that both riders were closer to peak performance. Alonso achieved this with more consistency thanks to the narrower interquartile range compared to Ocon. Ricciardo continues to sit there as a breakaway.

Ricciardo starts at a disadvantage

Diagram 6 Effects on grid position

McLaren vs Alpine 2022 F1 qualifying results at optimum times

Chart 6 looks at the implications of not achieving peak performance. While all riders have their better and worse races, Ricciardo’s performance once again stands out.

At almost every race except Belgium, Ricciardo would have lost grid positions if all drivers had put in their best laps. In other words, even if Ricciardo got closer to his ideal lap time, it wouldn’t be enough to compensate for the improvement of his competitors.

High-speed passages are suitable for alpine

Diagram 7 Qualifying Sector Breakdown

McLaren vs Alpine 2022 F1 Qualifying Pace by Sector Type

Chart 7, which compares performance in different types of sectors, shows where the Alpine/McLaren performance difference lay. Each driver’s distance to pole time is displayed for slow, medium and high speed sectors.

Alpine has the clear advantage in the high-speed sectors, but Norris was quicker in the slow and mid-speed corners.

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