Alpine struggled to compete with midfield leaders McLaren, Ferrari and AlphaTauri through the first two race weekends of the year, scoring just three points across both Bahrain and Imola.
But the French team appeared to make a big step forward on Friday in Portugal as Fernando Alonso and Ocon finished fifth and sixth in second practice at Portimao.
The performance gave Alpine hope that it would be able to take the fight to the midfield front-runners after failing to do so in the opening two race weekends.
“I think it will be close tomorrow, it will be a tough battle with everybody, looking at how close the times are,” Ocon said.
“This track is still a challenge for everybody. The grip has improved compared to last year, but it’s still quite tricky out there. It’s moving quite a lot. It will be a fight. It was good enough for today, but tomorrow will be tight.
“For sure, for sure. It leaves us optimistic. Fernando is very quick as well, so there’s all the reasons we can be very happy about today, and we are in a position to fight tomorrow.”
Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521, Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
Alpine has brought updated parts to both Imola and Portimao in a bid to find more performance, with Ocon reporting positive progress in the team’s understanding of the A521 car.
“For sure we are working towards improving the car, understanding and as I said, extract the maximum out of the platform,” Ocon said.
“We are finding little bits here and there constantly, which is very positive. But yeah, we need to do that tomorrow. It’s only FP2.”
Alonso said that the team did not feel much need to make big changes to the set-up of the car through the day, with the baseline being comfortable to work from.
But the Spaniard was uncertain that the pecking order would change too much compared to the last two races.
“Obviously it’s only Friday as you said, but we were comfortable from the lap one, and we didn’t touch much with the set-up because everything felt reasonably OK,” Alonso said.
“We have to wait and see tomorrow. I think the positions will not be too different compared to Imola or Bahrain.
“I don’t think there is any big changes in the order. I think it’s just a different Friday, different approach maybe comparing teams, but yeah, let’s see, fingers crossed we can keep this pace tomorrow.”