As Ocon reaches the pit box, the crew moves like synchronized dancers, replacing the car’s tires in about two seconds. McElhenney gently pumps his fist, while his wife, fellow Sunny star Katilin Olson, films the sequence on her phone. The garage erupts in high fives as Ocon sets off on what would ultimately be a fourth-place finish—one of his best races of the season.
For Alpine—formally known as the BWT Alpine F1 Team—the sudden infusion of celebrity investors has been a game changer, and the team’s drivers can sense it. Earlier in the week, at the Alpine hospitality center, Ocon and his teammate, fellow Frenchman Pierre Gasly, were marveling at the team’s rising morale.
“When this type of news happens, you see an immediate spark,” said Gasly. “Having such big names, champions of their industry, come on board and trust the project…you can tell the motivation it brought to the guys.”
Celebrity run-ins are now a common occurrence at Alpine. A few days prior to the race, Gasly had been chatting with Rory McIlroy to get some putting tips ahead of the Netflix Cup (a televised golf/Formula 1 crossover). Ocon, meanwhile, had finally met Ryan Reynolds, one of his idols, who stopped by for a brief garage tour.
Ocon—nicknamed “Estie Bestie”—even got to show off his Deadpool-inspired helmet that he had designed specifically for Las Vegas.
“I wanted to do that helmet because I’m a big Marvel fan, and a big fan of his as well,” Ocon said. “It was awesome—he was super interested in what we do.”
The partnership between Alpine and its new celebrity investors is mutually beneficial. A-listers are able to join Formula 1, one of the hottest sports in the world right now, while Alpine gains enormous brand exposure (Reynolds alone has 50 million followers on Instagram).
There are other, longer-term benefits, too. Unbeknownst to many Americans, Alpine is a luxury sportscar brand in France. And though it doesn’t sell cars in the U.S. currently, it plans on doing so within the next few years, hot on the heels of its rising popularity in Formula 1.
“It’s important for us to create this brand,” said Philippe Krief, Alpine’s CEO, who notes that this type of investment model is unique for the sport. “Ferrari doesn’t need to do this… Mercedes doesn’t need to do this, you know? We need this part, though.”