Every time an Alpine (usually Fernando Alonso’s) has suffered a race-ending failure in Formula 1 this season, the team has turned to the same silver lining.
The priority for its all-new engine for 2022 was performance, as we’ve heard all season long. Reliability can come later. This is because the engines were homologated this year until the end of 2025 with only reliability fixes permitted in between. No specification changes are allowed for performance reasons.
After years of Renault lagging behind Mercedes, Ferrari and even Honda, a massive effort went into the 2022 design. Alpine/Renault couldn’t afford for its deficit to be baked in for four seasons.
That has paid off, for there is no evidence that the works team is lacking power versus its rivals. Poor reliability in the short-term is the price paid for that.
“That was a conscious and strategic decision,” said Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer in Mexico.
“And now when we face them [reliability problems], we can fix them.
“However, we mustn’t forget that we did this…not on purpose to not be reliable but if you have to push the performance boundary, because you can’t add performance now until 2026, you can fix reliability issues.
“And we can do it over the winter. So strategically, I think it was the right thing to do.”
For the team, certainly. And Alonso was meant to be part of that. Indeed, early in the season, he did seem to buy more favourably into the ‘pain now, payback later’ logic. And every time Alpine has found a new problem, it fixed it.
So, it will all be worthwhile if next year Alpine has patched all its weak points, and the 2023 engine is still punchy but much more reliable.
Except if that’s the case, Alonso will miss out. His impending exit, switching to Aston Martin, means he won’t be around to enjoy the only silver lining to his 2022 misery.
It creates a strange contrast between driver and team, because Alonso’s unhappy that his personal efforts have not been rewarded as they should have.
He has had the lion’s share of engine failures at Alpine, with five grand prix retirements (plus a sprint race non-start) to Esteban Ocon’s two.
It has increasingly got under Alonso’s skin, reducing the two-time world champion to repeatedly lamenting his misfortune and his lost points.
But while Alonso will likely end up looking on unsatisfying drivers’ standings come the end of the Abu Dhabi weekend, Alpine can cling to the fact that it is still in position to finish fourth in the constructors’ championship and achieve its 2022 ambition despite Alonso’s woes.
Ultimately, Alpine might not actually lose anything from this. And even though it has shot itself in the foot at times, does it really matter if it beats McLaren by seven points (the current gap) or 70?
“No, no,” said Szafnauer. “Not at this point.
“And then over the winter, we’ll make even more reliability improvements. And we’ll be better off.
“You’ve got to remember this powertrain has to last until 2026. So, for sure it was the right strategy.”
Whatever willingness Alonso had to put up with that strategy seems to have gone out the window since he decided to leave the team.
He has grown increasingly frank in his assessments, whereas Ocon has remained careful and on-message with his comments. It’s been very easy to tell which driver will be racing for Alpine next year, and which one will not.
In Mexico, for example, Alonso said it cannot just be bad luck and accused the team of not being well enough prepared.
And this is fine. He’s had such a rough time of it in terms of reliability that who could blame him if his patience has run out? Especially as the bigger picture no longer applies to him.
Alpine, meanwhile, is fully focused on the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a big potential pay-off if it rectifies its obvious weaknesses. It just won’t be enjoyed by the driver who has suffered from them the most.