Bottas vs Ocon vs Ricciardo and the overlooked fight for third in Jeddah


While the focus was on the championship pair fighting for first, a race-long battle for third was unfolding behind but did the right man win it?


Ocon held third for so long but ultimately lost the battle for the final podium spot

Florent Gooden / DPPI

Data by Ekagra Gupta, edited by Jake Williams-Smith

The drag race to the chequered flag between Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon was a thrilling end to a chaotic race in Jeddah.

For Ocon, he had risen from ninth on the original starting grid to all but seal fifth in the constructors’ standings for Alpine against AlphaTauri with a strong drive under the floodlights.

Bottas on the other hand had much more of a difficult night, falling back at the restart and losing out as a result, stuck in traffic and left with a salvage job yet again.

He had to overcome Daniel Ricciardo who was enjoying a strong race for McLaren until his pace suddenly dropped away and without team-mate Lando Norris up there to assist, a great points-scoring result turned into an average one.

And what of Fernando Alonso? As his Alpine team-mate flew, the two-time champion was unable to match his pace and after several bits of poor luck, slumped to a non-scoring finish.

How did the fight for third unfold in Saudi Arabia?


Note that yellow boxes are laps that were disrupted due to SC/VSC or red flags.


Mercedes and Max Verstappen had sprinted well clear of the pack by the time the Mick Schumacher’s Haas impacted the barriers. On paper, the opportunity to make a cheap pit stop was the right call if there was a gap to rejoin into. For the Mercedes drivers, it was a no-brainer. Yet those that opted to take advantage of the safety car to pit ultimately lost out, and Alonso, Norris and Bottas were part of that unlucky group.

The Finn was keeping touch with team-mate Lewis Hamilton and keeping Verstappen at arm’s length. The trio had notched up a 20sec gap back to Ocon in seventh.

Alonso was already in trouble. The Spaniard was slipping down the order lap after lap and was one of the drivers that opted to pit ahead of the red flag, compounding his woes. It put him down to 15th by the time the red flags were flown.

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Norris was the biggest loser though. Running sixth on lap nine, the decision to pit the Briton plummeted him down the order to 14th position and all but ended his hopes of a strong result for the rest of the night.

Those who had opted to remain out gained major track position. Ricciardo rose from eighth place to fifth while Ocon moved from seventh to fourth for the race restart, behind Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas.

The first restart was pivotal to how the podium fight unfolded as there was still a decent chance for Bottas to join in with the title-contending duo ahead of him.

Those hopes were dashed just a few hundred meters after the lights went out for the second time. A lock-up into the first corner heavily compromised him, allowing Ocon and Ricciardo to slip through for position.

As Verstappen rejoined the circuit, his Red Bull blocked Hamilton’s path through Turn 2 and it meant Ocon could dip underneath the Mercedes and steal second position on the run to Turn 3.

Bottas had skipped over the T2 apex as well further back, allowing Ricciardo free space behind Ocon to surge around the outside of the Finn and secure fourth position heading into the tunnel-esque run to T3.

It was a costly error for Bottas as it defined the rest of his race even after the second restart.

Further back, Norris’s miserable night got even worse. A very cautious approach from the McLaren driver into Turn 1 on the restart allowed Alonso and Nicholas Latifi to slip through for position, and after the crash between Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez up ahead, he was last of the remaining drivers for the second and final restart of the race in P16.


Smoothed lap times using polynomial regression


Ocon was quickly looking in his mirrors for the championship contenders, likely keen to avoid any contact with the pair that might affect the world title battle. His efforts were in vain as Verstappen launched an attack on Hamilton and the Frenchman was lucky to emerge without a puncture following contact with Hamilton’s front wing.

No harm done, he slotted into second and after Hamilton passed him on the following lap, enjoyed clear air for much of the race.

Bottas almost had a move on Ricciardo completed exiting Turn 2 but with the inside line into Turn 3, the McLaren driver held onto the position and remained ahead for the majority of the night afterwards.

That was a crucial moment for the Mercedes driver’s race. Without clear air ahead of him, his pace was limited to that of Ricciardo as he suffered in the turbulent wake unable to find a route past the Australian.

As the drivers began to scrap on track, debris soon went flying and the stop/start middle section of the race was littered with virtual safety cars, further limiting Bottas but aiding Ocon up ahead.

With the Mercedes stuck in traffic and unable to get few clean racing laps in which to attempt a pass before another interruption, he spent 24 laps behind Ricciardo before he finally made a pass stick into Turn 1 on lap 40.

As Ricciardo struggled to hold Bottas back, his medium compound tyres were well past their best and his speed flatlined relative to the rivals around him.

As evident in the above chart, once Bottas was clear of Ricciardo, his true pace was unleashed. A string of laps in the 1min 31sec range is not too far off of team-mate and race leader Hamilton and the Finn quickly reached the third-place man.


McLaren team-mate comparison


Shown in the graphic here, Ricciardo’s struggles were serious when compared with his own team-mate.

Norris was the only driver in the top 10 to start on the soft compound tyres and his early stop ended up costing him dearly. He was then on a recovery drive to 10th place by the end but he was hampered further by the intermittent VSC phase of the grand prix.

Without a real rhythm to the race, it wasn’t until the closing stages that his pace was unleashed and properly evident again.

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Even before Bottas managed to clear Ricciardo, Norris began to find more time on his hard compound tyres, fitted since the first restart on lap 14.

While Ricciardo’s medium tyres fell away from the performance peak, he was passed by Bottas and his woes continued despite the gap ahead as the Mercedes charged up the road to attack Ocon.

Norris’s race was of course compromised by the red flags and virtual safety cars but the competitive order at McLaren was still the same as usual despite the inconvenient strategy for Norris and the finishing positions of both drivers.

The Australian’s short-term gains on the medium tyres turned into bigger issues by the end with the medium compound unable to last the remaining distance from the second red flag while maintaining a competitive level of performance versus those on the hards.

If McLaren had showed a stronger pace in qualifying, both might have secured stronger points-scoring finishes by the end.


Alpine team-mate comparison


Likewise at Alpine, it was clear which of its two drivers was in the zone in Saudi Arabia and which of them struggled to cope on Sunday night.

Ocon’s initial stint was promising as he remained in the top 10 so much so that the Frenchman was able to extend the stint and benefit when the red flags came out.

Though that was a great deal of luck in his favour, discount that factor and Ocon’s first stint is still the more impressive of the two. Able to consistently lap quicker than his team-mate despite the dirty air from Norris ahead, Ocon’s pace and tyre management was beyond what his championship-winning team-mate could muster.

So when he started from pole position and the championship contenders were clear of him, his pace in third position was extremely strong relative to the rest of the top 10. Alonso meanwhile continued to struggle, spinning midway through the race and even pitting near the end for fresh soft tyres.

Despite that, he still couldn’t find pace to match his team-mate consistently in the final laps while Ocon defended his third place from the recovering Bottas.

With mistakes from the rest of the contenders for the final podium position, Ocon kept it clean and was more than good value of third position.

He was able to extract the maximum performance from the Alpine car and maintained quick and consistent pace throughout the night. Though he may have benefitted the most from the red flag, his drive from that point on was deserving for the third place finish that was cruelly stolen from him on the run to the line on the final lap.

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