Alpine already knows it’s likely to miss its target for the 2023 Formula 1 season.
But it’s “excited” about the precise effect a new front wing it’s bringing to the British Grand Prix could have on its car’s behaviour.
It won’t be game-changing in itself, but for a team that’s generally clear of the midfield but some way shy of its 2023 goal of closing on the top three – and suddenly vulnerable to an improving McLaren – it’s a well-timed upgrade that the team believes will open up some new possibilities.
Technical director Matt Harman describes the Silverstone update as “a quite significant one” and in an interview in the latest edition of The Race F1 podcast said that the team was “excited” about the promising results of simulation work on the upgrade.
Although there’s no expectation that the new parts will transform Alpine’s fortunes and it is still set to be a contender for only minor points positions given the advantage of the top four teams, it is an important step for the team.
A floor upgrade is also on the way, one that is likely to be introduced before the August break.
“It’s going to change some of the characteristic of our car and that’s important,” Harman told The Race regarding the front wing.
“We’re looking to move a little bit around some of our low speed balance. We’re looking to understand a little bit more about some of our aero balance in general.
“I think this does that for us. It moves us to a different place. It puts quite a bit of load on the car, but it also puts it in a slightly different way to how we would normally have engineered the car. So we’re quite excited.”
Alpine has been working to improve the consistency of the through-corner balance of the car, something that’s a particular challenge under these new regulations that simplified the top-body aerodynamics.
The hope is that mid-corner understeer will be improved, with the change in aero balance Harman referred to at low-speeds likely hinting that that. And as driver Pierre Gasly explains, this is a particular area of focus for him.
“For me, it’s trying to cure some of the understeer we’re getting mid-corner, especially in low and medium speed corners the car is sometimes a bit lazy and we are lacking a bit of rotation and then it impacts our traction,” said Gasly.
“You’re always chasing, constantly wanting to improve the kind of combined entry and exit in terms of the rear grip you have available without losing the front grip at the apex.
“It’s the through-corner balance you’re always trying to improve and simultaneously also trying to improve the overall load of the car.”
Gasly described the new front wing as “a considerable change, so we are definitely expecting an improvement in terms of characteristics”.
He declined to suggest what laptime it might be worth, although stressed that in Alpine’s position even a small improvement could be very significant.
“On merit at the moment that’s where we are, from eighth to tenth,” Gasly told The Race. “There have been signs of better performance, I qualified fourth in Barcelona, I was running in fifth in Melbourne, we’ve seen at times like that we’re able to put that car slightly up the order, but we’re just lacking a bit of consistency.
“For example, in Austria we just didn’t have the pace and one weekend we are only two tenths from the Ferraris but the next weekend they are seven tenths ahead and then it’s two tenths from Mercedes.
“There seems to be a bit more inconsistency from these top teams, where we always seem to be two or three tenths behind whoever is bottom of the top teams.
“We’ve got a new front wing coming this weekend, but new parts as well in the next three races so I hope it can close that gap. At the moment, a tenth in qualifying can probably get us a row, if you get a row in quali and you get a position at the start it’s suddenly three positions higher than you qualify at the moment. That’s what we need to target.
“But we clearly need to operate at 100% of the package we have, make no mistakes at any moment to be fighting up there.”
This series of upgrades will have a significant impact on what Alpine can realistically be expected to achieve this season in what’s threatening to turn into a year of treading water.
While significant gains were made with the car, which included a heavily-revised rear suspension design and a build quality that’s reckoned to eclipse anything the team has produced before, it remains a midfielder – albeit one that, at times, has been in a no-man’s land between the top four and the rest.
Alpine’s original target, which was outlined late last year and reiterated at the launch of the Alpine A523 in February, was “to be closer to third than we are fifth” in the championship. That was how team principal Otmar Szafnauer put it, with Alpine Cars CEO Laurent Rossi saying something similar at the launch. In 2022, Alpine was 342 points behind third-placed Mercedes and 14 ahead of McLaren behind.
It is currently fifth in the constructors’ championship having been leapfrogged by Aston Martin. Alpine has scored only 47 points, which puts it 107 points behind fourth-placed Ferrari and just 18 clear of McLaren in fifth.
“It looks like the gap in points will be such that that’s going to be difficult to achieve,” Szafnauer told The Race when asked about the team’s original 2023 target.
“We’re still trying, but we’re realistic that it may not happen.
“However, if towards the end of the season, we’re the fourth fastest team and picking up good points, even though we don’t overtake one of them, that will be a success.”
This means Alpine now has a very similar target to the one laid out by McLaren, with both aspiring to be fourth-quickest in the closing stages of the season.
“I didn’t realise that was their objective, I set ours relative to what else I see around us,” said Szafnauer.
“We have to work hard to upgrade the car and make sure we give the drivers the car underneath them to score good points.”