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Formula 1

New Alpine boss already clear on the ‘steps forward’ required

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

New Alpine Formula 1 team boss Otmar Szafnauer says he has already seen where it must “take steps forward” as he bids to turn around Renault’s works programme.

Alpine scored a double points finish in the 2022 season opener, Szafnauer’s first race since joining after separating from Aston Martin at the turn of the year.

Szafnauer was a long-time Team Silverstone man, having joined Force India in 2009, but is now running one of only three out-and-out works teams in F1.

His task is to succeed where predecessors Marcin Budkowski and Cyril Abiteboul failed and make the factory Renault team a frontrunner in F1.

“I’ve said this in the past, and I applied it, and I’ll say it again – especially a team like this, that has some great capabilities, great people and smart people, what I need to do is have a good assessment of everything,” said Szafnauer.

“Because if you just start making changes for the sake of change, you could get it wrong.

“You have a really, really good assessment, and then say, ‘OK, with all my experience, these areas I’ve seen in other teams that are better, and they bring performance. So let’s try to bolster these areas. These other areas are great.’

“So, there are areas that I have seen already where we have to take steps forward, but I’m still in the assessment mode.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Race Day Sakhir, Bahrain

Alpine is in the second year of its rebrand in the image of Renault’s niche sportscar manufacturer, and won a grand prix in 2021 with Esteban Ocon.

But it has finished fifth in the constructors’ championship five years in a year and shown no signs of making the step expected of an organisation with a bespoke chassis and engine arrangement that only Ferrari and Mercedes can match.

Unsurprisingly, Szafnauer sees untapped potential in the Enstone factory and Viry engine headquarters – especially with its facilities and the run of investment Renault has put in since rejoining the grid in 2016.

“I was impressed with all the manufacturing facilities, the windtunnel, and the amount of people,” he said.

“The design office had a refurbishment. The fact that we make our own gearbox, we design and make. So that gives you a bit of an advantage. And to design and make your own powertrain, too. So, it’s all there.”

Szafnauer does have experience of bigger organisations. He was trying to spearhead the expansion of the nascent Aston Martin works project but previously worked at Honda in the 2000s.

As someone who excelled most while leading the underdog Force India team during its underfunded years, though, Szafnauer is likely to put an emphasis on efficiency rather than out-and-out firepower.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Malaysian Grand Prix, Saturday Sepang, Malaysia

“I will definitely apply some of those techniques here,” Szafnauer said of his Force India heritage. “Definitely, definitely, definitely.

“And I have seen already that the cost cap will bite. You’ve got to start looking for those efficiencies and making good decisions on how many parts you make, how you get them there, when you release stuff out of the tunnel.

“All those types of things, a lot of little decisions that add up and the cost cap will be a factor. It will.”

Szafnauer’s arrival at Alpine comes as part of a managerial shake-up led by CEO Laurent Rossi.

Budkowski left over the winter, as did special adviser Alain Prost. Last summer engine chief Remi Taffin parted company with the team and the senior leadership of the technical department has been restructured as well.

Rossi has described Szafnauer as bringing “indisputable qualities to the table” and “probably help us bring our game one level or more”.

Szafnauer’s experience and personality mean Alpine should be in safe and popular hands. He is renowned for fostering a positive working culture and strong loyalty within a team and should have the right outlook to position Alpine effectively in the budget cap era.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Race Day Sakhir, Bahrain

“He already made suggestions on the day he arrived because he was observing us already last year,” said Rossi.

“So there’s a couple of things that he could see, that he could bring in.

“And now he knows the team a bit better, he’s been already instrumental in helping us prioritising a couple of things operationally speaking, fixing a lot of things as well and also planning for the long term.

“I’m very happy Otmar is making a difference already.”

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