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The challenges Alpine faces with its no team boss approach

Can a Formula 1 team operate successfully without a clear boss in the traditional team principal role?

The challenges Alpine faces with its no team boss approach
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That's the path being pursued by Alpine this year as Marcin Budkowski and newcomer Davide Brivio share responsibility for running the organisation, their jobs split, in essence, into factory and track operations.

Until his departure was announced in January, Cyril Abiteboul was Renault's man in the spotlight. He was expected to move into a more senior role as overall boss of Alpine Cars, having worked on the project – alongside his F1 duties – since July.

Instead, Abiteboul proved to be surplus to requirements. The revised organisation chart at the F1 team sees Budkowski and Brivio with equal stature, reporting to new Alpine Cars CEO Laurent Rossi.

No F1 team organisation is about one person, and all have multiple layers of management, involving specialists in their own fields. There are also some variations on the two-man leadership theme.

At McLaren, Andreas Seidl serves as team principal, but his immediate boss and CEO Zak Brown takes on bigger responsibilities for the company. At Williams, there's a similar arrangement, with team principal Simon Roberts running the team, but reporting to CEO Jost Capito, who looks after the wider interests of shareholders.

However, at most teams there is a sole point of focus. Ultimately Toto Wolff, Christian Horner, Mattia Binotto, Gunther Steiner, Fred Vasseur, Franz Tost and Otmar Szafnauer all answer to owners, some more hands-on than others – notably Red Bull representative Helmut Marko – but as team principals they carry the can if something goes wrong.

At Alpine Rossi serves as the young and dynamic link man between Budkowski and Brivio below him, and Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo above.

Rossi has had an interesting career. He started as a Renault road car powertrain engineer, but instead of working his way up he left to join a management consulting company, focussed mainly on automotive projects.

After a spell with Google he returned to Renault in 2018 as a high-flier in a senior strategy and business development role.

Laurent Rossi, Alpine Chief Executive Officer

Laurent Rossi, Alpine Chief Executive Officer

Photo by: Alpine

That in turn led him to the Alpine Cars job that Abiteboul had expected to get. Overseeing the F1 team and the power unit division in France is just part of Rossi's responsibilities, as his main job is to build the Alpine brand.

"In the team the top structure is underneath Marcin Budkowski and Davide Brivio," he explained recently.

"Marcin will be in charge of the development of the chassis and the powertrain, so will coordinate the whole development of the car. Davide will be racing director.

"So the two of them will work in tandem to extract the best out of the car that has been designed in Enstone to put it into the best position possible in the future.

"The rest of the teams are keeping their existing line structures to Marcin in Enstone, or to myself in Viry, which is a bit of a different situation because it's a PU manufacturer. But besides those two lines that I said, the rest stays like it was last year."

Rossi's philosophy, honed through his various jobs, is to delegate to the most qualified candidates: "It's to have strong people around you. That's my learning in life, that you don't do anything alone.

"To be resilient in any environment you need skills, you need stamina, you need a lot of qualities. F1 is exceptionally under pressure in terms of environment. You need a strong team.

"And that's why we thought of having Davide on board. He has proven experience managing teams and championships under pressure, so this will help the team quickly.

"And then of course, starting with Marcin, but irradiating into all of Enstone and Viry, we have extremely skilled people at the helm, developing our car.

"So this is what you need. And basically and modestly here, I'm managing all of these people towards one simple [goal] but providing them with all of the support, whether it's logistical, material, or sometimes I hope, intellectual.

"Really surround yourself with the great ones, that's how you thrive. And that's what I hope I did."

Budkowski, who joined Renault in 2018 as executive director, played an increasingly influential role alongside Abiteboul, especially when COVID travel made it harder for the latter to spend time in Enstone.

An aerodynamicist by training, his impressive CV includes senior roles at Ferrari and McLaren, and a spell at the FIA where he got a very different perspective on the sport – before deciding he wanted to be back in a team and he took the Renault management job. He's learned a lot along the way, especially from his days at Maranello.

"I was extremely lucky to be part of an era at Ferrari under Jean Todt with Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, with Michael Schumacher, with all these great names," Budkowski says.

"Some of them are still key names in the sport – Mattia Binotto was there, James Allison, they're all team mates from this period. It was a completely different role at the time, I was an engineer, I was contributing to the development of the car.

"Now I'm much more in a management position and contributing to the performance of the organisation, rather than the car itself. Certainly being part of such a successful organisation, one that was dominating the sport at the time, is something that you remember.

"You remember some of the things that we were doing right, an certainly that's something I rake inspiration from in my management role to try to build a team as strong as the one we had at the time."

Marcin Budkowski, Executive Director, Alpine F1

Marcin Budkowski, Executive Director, Alpine F1

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Budkowski sees the factory/track job split with Brivio as logical given the busier 2021 calendar, the huge challenge of creating a new car for 2022, and the ongoing logistical problems created by COVID.

"In terms of responsibilities, I've been based in Enstone for the last three years," he says. "I'm continuing to run Enstone and all the departments that are involved in the race team there.

"And then there is the racing side of it, if you want, at the track, and the driver management, which lies with Davide.

"We have a base in the UK, we have a base in France. We have 23 races, potentially 25 in the future, COVID restrictions mean potential quarantines etc. Honestly, in these conditions, managing a team and going to all races is very, very difficult."

The recruitment of former Suzuki boss Brivio, a man who has spent his entire career in two-wheeled sport, is an intriguing move by Renault. However, it's perhaps not as unusual as some might think.

Over the years, many team bosses have climbed the ladder from running teams in the lower formulae – Frank Williams and Ron Dennis were classic examples, while more recently Horner and Vasseur followed that route.

However, good managers can be found elsewhere. McLaren pulled a masterstroke by looking beyond F1 and headhunting Seidl, a man with an impressive skillset, honed latterly in the WEC – although the German had some experience of grand prix racing in his BMW days.

Jean Todt made his name in rallying and sportscars before he joined Ferrari, while his contemporaries David Richards (with BAR and Benetton) and Ove Andersson (Toyota) also went from the rallying world to F1 – as did current Haas boss Steiner.

And don't forget that Flavio Briatore won four world championships as a former fashion marketing man.

Brivio stresses that his focus is on managing the travelling race team.

"We decided on this type of organisation where basically the roles are split between Enstone operations and the circuit operation," he says.

"And nowadays it is also quite difficult, we felt, because, with 23 races and also when you want to improve the organisation, make the team growing up, you need to be very focused on all sides, all aspects.

"So we decided to split. Of course, having Marcin in his role is very helpful for me, and he has done a great job on organising all the facility, and managing all the facility in Enstone.

"My role is to be responsible for what happens on the track, on the circuit. So, when we are here for the race weekend, to make sure that we have everything we need to perform, to make sure the drivers are happy, comfortable, and they have what they need, of course, listen to their requests, their complaints.

"So it's a big responsibility. And of course, a big pressure. And then what we want to try to do is to be efficient in all aspects, and in all situations, so at home and at the circuit. That's the idea behind it."

Davide Brivio

Davide Brivio

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Brivio notes that at Suzuki, a much smaller operation, he was directly involved in all areas – some of which he won't encounter at Alpine.

"In Suzuki the organisation was smaller. Here, they are very well organised, all each individual sector. Before I was also operational, [as well as] being responsible. Here you can count on plenty of very good operational staff, and organised offices.

"I am a part of the management, and as management with Laurent, with Marcin, we have the responsibility to run the operation. When it is time to take decisions, to make strategies, this is where the management has to be prepared."

So how will the new arrangement work out? Even the team doesn't know that yet, given that the Bahrain test was Brivio's first chance to have a proper look.

It will stand and fall on how he and Budkowski interact with each other, and with Rossi, their immediate boss.

A positive and competitive start to the season will obviously help to build confidence in the new structure. In contrast, a few troubled races will test it.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Brivio faces is managing Fernando Alonso, whose expectations are always high, and who doesn't suffer fools.

"I feel like he's a very normal guy," Brivio says of the former world champion. "Just extremely motivated, extremely willing to find and put together everything that is necessary to get the best out of the car, the best out of the team.

"He's coming back, and he's not coming back just to drive a car. He's coming back to try to get good results, to get some satisfaction, and he's quite demanding, but that's what I like.

"We need this type of driver that is really keen to put everything together to try the maximum, so I welcome this type of attitude, this type of approach.

"And of course, we will have to try to work together as best possible in order to use his abilities and his potential."

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