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Analysis
Formula 1 Belgian GP

A team in chaos or part of a masterplan? What’s going on at Alpine F1

Alpine’s announcement of a parting of ways with team principal Otmar Szafnauer and sporting director Alan Permane sent shockwaves through the Formula 1 paddock in Belgium. 

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A523

After years where the accepted wisdom in F1 is that the route to success is a well-defined vision, stability, investment, and realism, Alpine going separate ways with two of its most senior figures seems a step in the opposite direction. 

It also comes against the backdrop of the team appearing to lurch from one decision to the next without any kind of overall strategy. 

Just three weeks ago, Alpine’s F1 engine chief Bruno Famin was appointed VP of Motorsport, to act as a clear touch point for CEO Laurent Rossi above him and F1 team boss Szafnauer below him. 

At the time he said that the idea was to help clear up the reporting structure for Szafnauer, but that Alpine’s vision for success with its 100-race plan was unchanged. 

“There is no need to change the roadmap,” said Famin. 

A week later, and Alpine announced that Rossi had gone – moved aside to take on unspecified ‘special projects’ tasks. Replacing him was former Ferrari man Philippe Krief.  

The move was interpreted by many as a boost to Szafnauer in removing Rossi totally from the picture – with the pair not having exactly seen eye-to-eye this season over the progress of the Alpine squad. 

In the wake of that senior shuffle, Szafnauer declared that he had faith Renault CEO Luca de Meo would give him the time he felt necessary to get Alpine up to the front of the F1 grid – which was in line with the 100-race plan that ended in 2026. 

“It takes time,” said Szafnauer about whether or not he felt de Meo would have the necessary patience.  

“It has taken everybody time. I know Luca is a man of his word, and he gave me his word on 100 races to start winning, and sometimes you take a half-step backwards to take two steps forward. 

“So, I have no concern that Luca will be true to his word and give me the 100-races time that is required.” 

Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal, Alpine F1 Team, in the Team Principals Press Conference

Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal, Alpine F1 Team, in the Team Principals Press Conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

But, just a few days after Szafnauer uttered those words and in the wake of the team’s disastrous Hungarian GP, the writing was effectively on the wall. 

Amid ongoing lack of unity between Szafnauer’s belief on the timescales needed to get Alpine up the front, and how best it could be achieved, it was effectively the end of the road for him at Alpine. 

And for Permane, who many viewed as a lifer at Enstone, a similar lack of agreement with Alpine’s senior management over exactly what the team needed to do and how long it would take to get there was viewed as an obstacle to him remaining. 

It was a lack of unity over vision, rather than a direct belief that Szafnauer and Permane were not valuable employees, that pulled the trigger.

As Famin said: “We never lost confidence. I think when we are developing these kinds of projects, we really need to be on the same line with all the team, and the top management of the team. 

“We were working together, but at one stage we realised that we were not on the same line on a couple of topics. The competition, it's so hard. If we're not 100% aligned, I think we all have enough experience to know that it's useless to continue together, and everybody has to learn to go his own route.” 

In essence then, as Famin confirmed at Spa on Friday, he and the car company management believe that Alpine can become competitive much faster, and in a different way, than the experienced heads of Szafnauer and Permane were suggesting.   

On one level, Alpine’s belief it knows best seems to be quite remarkable – as it goes totally against the grain of what others in the F1 paddock think is a realistic timeframe and approach to get things in place. 

After all, only a few weeks ago, even Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur warned of the ‘inertia’ that is in place in moving F1 teams forward – as he faces waiting until the start of 2025 to get hold of Mercedes performance director Loic Serra. 

“On one hand we look very agile," he said. "We change things, and overnight sometimes you have an issue, and you can fix it from one race to another one. 

“But the reality of our business is that when you want to steer the boat a little bit, then we are not agile anymore. We know that if we want to recruit, we are speaking not in days, we are speaking in years. 

“I signed a top guy a couple of weeks ago to join in 2025. He will only work on the car in 2025 and 2026. 

“It seems a long wait. But. on the other hand, if you don't do it, it will be even worse in six months. You have to accept it as a basic of F1. If you stop at one stage, it means you will postpone again even more the impact.” 

These are timescales that Szafnauer has been well aware of from his years of experience in F1, and that is why even Alpine still has to wait months for the arrival of some senior personnel it has already signed from rival teams. For there is no way to fast track the early termination of employment contracts without it getting very expensive. 

Yet there is another factor at play here from Alpine’s perspective, which goes back to Einstein’s famous definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. 

From Famin’s perspective, it was unrealistic for Alpine to expect any change in how quickly results could be delivered if there was no overhaul of who was left in charge.  

From his perspective, stability can sometimes be bad because it prevents a change of direction – something which he thinks is necessary based on the performance of the team in 2023. 

Speaking about losing experienced heads at Alpine, Famin said: “I think stability can be also the way of doing always the same result in the same way and not progressing.  

“If we would have been much closer to the top teams this season, for sure the things would have been different. But in terms of stability and building things, we need to make some changes to move forward to go faster and to change this stability, which is quite counterproductive at this stage.” 

Pierre Gasly, Alpine A523, stand by as marshals assist with a fire

Pierre Gasly, Alpine A523, stand by as marshals assist with a fire

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Famin denies that the timeline of events in recent weeks points to chaos inside Alpine, and is adamant that the French manufacturer has a clear vision of what is needed. 

“This is not a super positive way of presenting the things,” he said when asked about recent events appearing to unfold without any clearly defined strategy.  “I think it's a bit more the opposite in fact, because Alpine has a plan, and we really want to develop that plan. 

“All those changes, of course, are not from one day to another. It is a global view and when you think a bit about it, there is a kind of logic in everything. 

“This is not done from one hour to another. The goal is really to push the development of the brand and one of the things we need to do is to push the development of the Formula One team.” 

But while the vision for an overhaul may be there right now, there is no set view on how it will be activated. Even Famin admits that what route is taken has not been decided. 

“I think we need to change quite a lot of things in our project," he said. "But the first thing I will do is an assessment of what is the full situation of the team, on the factories, on the way the factories are working together, and on everything. Once the assessment will be done, we will take the corresponding decision.” 

For now, Alpine’s short-term prospects are unchanged. Work is continuing on developing its chassis, and there remains some hope that the FIA’s assessment of Alpine’s Renault engine being behind the opposition can lead the way to some power unit equalisation. Famin will take on the team boss role, but is undecided if he stays for the duration or brings in someone else.

Longer term, things are much less defined. Alpine’s 100-race plan to fight at the front in 2026 is clearly not good enough, which means it needs an instant and major response if it wants to make a leap over this winter and through next year. 

But, as one seasoned paddock veteran suggested in Belgium, Alpine’s approach and cull, without a firm vision of where it is going, does not appear to be the sort of thing that is a route to success.  

“I would be surprised if it makes them successful sooner,” they suggested. “In fact, it’s probably put them back five years.” 

Now, it will be up to Alpine’s new bosses to prove that is not the case. 

Read Also:
Pierre Gasly, Alpine A523

Pierre Gasly, Alpine A523

Photo by: Erik Junius

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