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Formula 1

A baffling and quite sad F1 move is finally over

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
3 min read

A baffling chapter in the recent history of Formula 1’s most confusing team is over, with the end of Renault’s sad misuse of MotoGP favourite Davide Brivio.

Renault’s recruitment of Brivio, who had steered Suzuki to the MotoGP title, was one of the headline moves as it rebranded as Alpine ahead of the 2021 F1 season. It was also a curious one that felt like - no offence to Brivio - it had not been thought through in the slightest.

Brivio cannot be blamed for taking it on. He was dead excited to get a senior position in F1, had a sincere enthusiasm for the opportunity, and came with a fantastic set of credentials from MotoGP.

There is no way he could have imagined being undermined the way he was almost from the word go as, even by Renault’s standards, its team has been through a spectacular amount of upheaval since the start of 2021.

Brivio made you want the gamble to work. He was born in Monza, would bike to the track as a youngster and jump the park’s perimeter fence to watch Ferrari test before the Italian Grand Prix.

He retained a lot of the fandom that gripped him in his youth, and came across as infectiously enthusiastic in the very, very few glimpses we got of him before Alpine decided he was not going to be a public-facing leader (or, it turned out, a leader at all).

But you never believed it would work. Not at Renault. It felt like early on that someone, most likely Renault Group boss Luca de Meo, was hiring Brivio on a whim without knowing what the team was hiring Brivio for. And that meant there was always a fatal gap between the idea of Brivio in the Alpine F1 structure and the reality of it.

How else do you explain someone joining as racing director with the supposed responsibility of running the trackside organisation, then, a year later, being moved sideways into being “director of racing expansion projects”, a spectacularly nebulous job title with an equally vague remit of “overseeing talent identification and development in all categories” and leading “special projects to aid Alpine explore [sic] new motorsport categories”?

Right from the start there were doubts. Cyril Abiteboul left and was not replaced as team principal because, it seemed, the position had been redundant. In his place was… nobody.

Classic F1 politics and land grabs ensued for the next two years, at odds with the relatively apolitical Brivio and indirectly at his expense given it poisoned any potential this team had of getting its act together.

New CEO Laurent Rossi cared more about sucking up to de Meo, fortifying his own position, claiming all the credit for the good and making it clear who was to blame for the bad ones. Executive director Marcin Budkowski told the media repeatedly that there was no team principal because Alpine did not need a team principal - only to style himself as the “de facto team principal” on his own LinkedIn page, then get ousted after 2021 anyway.

Finally, a new team principal was hired in Otmar Szafnauer, just after Brivio was moved sideways - but now Szafnauer’s gone, as is Rossi, and pretty much every other senior figure who was at Alpine when Brivio arrived or joined shortly after.

Renault’s revolving door policy has cost its works team plenty and Brivio is, in a way, an unfortunate but strong symbol of that.

How it managed to turn an exciting, left-field hire with a great track record elsewhere into an utterly anonymous three-year stint is an 'impressive' achievement in the worst possible sense.

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