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Will Alpine end its F1 stagnation in 2022? Our verdict

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
7 min read

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The Formula 1 team that’s been Lotus, Renault and now Alpine in the last decade alone keeps on changing.

Alpine – which launches its 2022 F1 design in France on Monday evening – has already revealed a substantial management and technical line-up reshuffle for the new season.

Ex-Aston Martin man Otmar Szafnauer is now the effective team boss after Marcin Budkowski’s exit and with high profile MotoGP convert Davide Brivio moved into a different position focusing on Alpine’s ‘racing expansion’.

Four-time F1 champion Alain Prost has also departed from his advisory role, firing a broadside at Alpine on the way.

CEO Laurent Rossi’s adamant his vision for how this team should operate is the right one, but also that it needs time.

So is Alpine on the right track, or do Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon face a trying season?

Here are our writers’ thoughts:

Alpine has no clear trajectory

Mark Hughes

Esteban Ocon Alpine F1

Alpine is neither a top team nor one on a clear path that is taking it there.

You look at McLaren and you see direction. You look at Ferrari and you see vast potential. Alpine is a bigger organisation than Sauber or AlphaTauri with heavyweight infrastructure and which even manufactures its own power units. It used to be a giant but now punches well below its weight, almost as if it’s permanently misfiring. It’s still aspiring to be an actual challenger, in much the same way as Aston Martin. Yet the route to that aspiration is not obvious.

The latest reorganisation has at least given a clearer structure and the hiring of Otmar Szafnauer has given an identifiable team boss, one who is a very capable pair of hands, good with people and someone the workforce can get behind. It’s always been a strong trackside race team and that core is still there but where it has lacked in recent years is technical creativity – and where are the high profile technical recruitments which signal intent? Aston Martin seems to have had the recent monopoly of these.

The technical department perhaps feels it doesn’t need an injection of new talent from outside – but it has had some time now to prove that’s the case and hasn’t. So I don’t think we’re at the stage yet where we can say ‘yes, this is the core of a group that is going to go places’ and set about then instilling the stability and creating the harmony which brings out the creativity.

If it continues to misfire – as in continues to operate in the midfield, sometimes upper sometimes middle – then there are going to be more firings and restructures.

Renault-era stagnation heaps pressure

Edd Straw

Daniel Ricciardo Renault F1

Changes were unquestionably required at Alpine, which has stagnated in Formula 1’s midfield while its natural rivals – fellow works outfits Ferrari and McLaren – had left it behind. The question is whether the changes Laurent Rossi has made are the right ones.

We will only get a partial answer to that question this year, which is the frustrating thing about Alpine. Rossi has managed expectations by talking of a 100-race plan to emerge as a genuine frontrunner, a timeline that started last year so points to 2024, further extending the wait for the promised land that has always been just out of reach since Renault bought the team.

Realistically, this is an admission that the team has failed, not least because the 2022 rules should have been perfectly timed to be its chance to get to the front. Having relaunched its works team in 2016 – and we can consider that ‘year zero’ given how late that deal was done and the lack of investment in development of that year’s uncompetitive car – what’s now called Alpine has butted up against a self-imposed glass ceiling.

It may have won a race last year, but that was in tremendously fortunate circumstances and even fifth in the constructors’ championship was overachieving given it had the sixth-fastest car.

Despite the longer timeline, the pressure is still very much on this year both on the chassis and engine side. It’s difficult to see Alpine being in the top four given the strength of Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren and even to hang onto fifth it needs to hold off AlphaTauri and Aston Martin – not to mention those further back – who are hoping 2022 will give impetus to their own recoveries. But perhaps Alpine could surprise us.

If it goes wrong, Alpine’s struggles will only be underlined by what it means for Fernando Alonso’s career. And confirm that, once again, the moment Alpine will fulfil its potential is again a few years beyond its grasp.

One more chance before a tech infusion?

Valentin Khorounzhiy

Fernando Alonso Alpine Monaco F1

Like my colleague Mark above, I also am surprised how Alpine has gone about injecting new blood for 2022, and that there has been no big-name acquisition from the technical side – with the changes instead seeming to be more of a reshuffling nature.

Alpine’s biggest shortcoming last year was not the execution of races with what it had. It’s just that what it had wasn’t what you would expect it to have given all the investment and long-term targets.

The way I see it, there are two possible, potentially complementary explanations. The first one is that Laurent Rossi is very well-aware of how much Alpine sacrificed 2021 to get 2022 right and therefore has faith the existing higher-ups on the technical side will have proven there is no need to change course with the A522.

The second is that, having brought in two experienced managers in Szafnauer and new engine chief Bruno Famin, he wants to see whether they can arrange operations accordingly at Enstone and Viry to make all the existing parts click.

If that’s the plan, it’s a sensible plan. Famin, in particular, will be curious to monitor in F1, given his obvious successes with Peugeot’s LMP1 and Dakar programmes.

But it’s still surprising that there hasn’t been a splashy tech director hire. You’d think that with Aston Martin’s recent expansion in that area, there might be core people over at Silverstone who would be more amenable to seeking an outside promotion given the heavy recruitment at the top end would potentially have cut down on some inside opportunities.

Maybe something like that could still transpire for 2023, and maybe Rossi is just waiting to see whether his current set-up gives him a last-moment reason to not chase any more statement signings.

Changes should have come sooner

Scott Mitchell

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Practice Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

Last year, I didn’t hide the fact I doubted the Alpine structure. While it didn’t lead the team to be a laughing stock, it never seemed like something that was set up for long-term success. There’s a reason teams are set up according to a certain convention…

So I quite like the raft of Alpine changes, for two reasons. First is that they were necessary to give the team the right structure again. Second, why not ring the changes when the team has been at the same level, if not regressing, for so long?

Jan 31 : Revealing every 2022 F1 team's key weakness

The various people who worked at Renault/Alpine at different periods from 2016-2021 are not idiots. The opposite. They are immensely capable and in different ways, I’m sure their absences will be felt.

They were also all part of a period of stagnation. Whether it was their fault or not, only those on the inside know. But if their exits happen to be part of an overhaul aimed at eradicating underlying weaknesses, perhaps Laurent Rossi simply sees them as collateral damage.

The key question is whether these changes address the cause or the symptoms of Alpine’s malaise. If it’s the latter, this will just end up being change for the sake of change – and a lot of it.

Szafnauer can help Alpine move forward

Gary Anderson

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

If you keep changing who you are, you will keep losing time catching up with who you are. This is one of the biggest problems for Alpine. But with this last set of changes, it now does have someone in the team principal role who has seen it, done it and, more importantly, made it happen.

Otmar Szafnauer has many years of experience and understands how to motivate a team to get more out of itself than should be possible.

He’s a calming influence and I don’t think there’s a person at Aston Martin/Racing Point/Force India that doesn’t have a good word about him and his efforts to keep that team together through big changes – of which they’ve seen more than most over time.

Fernando Alonso is by no means the new kid on the block, but he can still pull out a result against all the odds. Team-mate Ocon is one of the new breed, so in these two drivers, Otmar will have the ingredients to build on.

Now, the management above him needs to step back and allow him to do his job. The big question is, will they?

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