Why The Alpine F1 Team Is Such A Hot Mess

Originally for WTF1 in July 2023, Dre writes about Alpine off the back of their team reshuffle after the 2023 Belgium Grand Prix.

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Read time: 4 mins

Welcome back to D.R.E (Dre’s Regular Editorial). In the post-Belgium edition, Dre breaks down the mess that was Alpine’s Belgian GP culling! 

Does anyone else remember “Tooned”? The brilliant animated show that revolved around McLaren? In Series 2 they were celebrating their 50th Anniversary and Alain Prost played himself in the show. Behind the scenes, he admitted he struggled with his lines because he doesn’t get angry very often. So for the F1 legend and Alpine’s former non-executive chairman to say this about his former boss…

“Laurent Rossi is an incapable leader who thinks he can overcome his incompetence by his arrogance and lack of humanity towards his troops.” – L’Equipe

…Yikes. Prost’s much-publicised exit from Alpine at the end of 2021 probably had something to do with this resentment, but in hindsight, it probably gave valid insight into the hot mess that’s been Alpine in the last two years. This is amazing given at the end of last season there were signs the team was moving in the right direction. 

And while some partial success has smoothed things over, as 2022 had Alpine comfortably 4th in the Constructors’ after beating McLaren in a long-drawn-out fight and targeting closing that gap on the “Big Three” of Mercs, Red Bull and Ferrari… the cracks have always been there under the surface. 

Alpine has been the biggest victim of the 2023 midfield shuffle, with Aston Martin making huge gains in the off-season and McLaren leapfrogging the French marque quickly via upgrades. In fear of being left behind, I suspect the current “Big Boss”, Renault CEO Luca de Meo, has acted now to try and save some credibility.

With the shocking news over the Belgian GP weekend that Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer and Sporting Director Alan Permane, a 34-year veteran of the Enstone camp, were leaving immediately by “mutual consent” (Pretend I’m using inverted commas sarcastically here), it adds to a brutal list of departures in just the last 18 months that also includes:

Pat Fry – The former Chief Technical Officer poached by Williams to work in a similar role for a team back on the up after half a decade at the bottom.

Laurent Rossi – The CEO hired just two years ago, moved to “Special Projects” by Renault Group’s CEO Luca De Meo not long after an unsympathetic dressing down of Szafnauer in Miami following the team’s poor start to 2023 – and replaced with “vice-president of engineering” Phillipe Krief.

Fernando Alonso – The former Double World Champion who pulled Otmar’s pants down in a shocking switch to Aston Martin mere days after Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement.

Oscar Piastri – The dominant junior driver who rejected the seat Alonso left behind, humiliating an Alpine team unaware of their own contract wording to move to McLaren, where he’s now flourishing as a rookie. 

If the reports are true that former Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto’s in line to take the job – and even if they aren’t – it’ll mean Alpine’s had four different team principals (Remember Marcin Budkowski? Solid pub quiz answer there) since the start of 2021. Not even Tottenham are as big of a mess as that!

When Renault came back to F1 in 2016, then-CEO Carlos Ghosn promised they’d be contenders in the now infamous “5-year plan”. It was a huge failure with just a handful of podiums to their names by 2020, and peaking at fourth in the standings. When Rossi took over, he essentially doubled down, renaming it a “100-race plan”, but then lashed out at the people below him in the pecking order the moment the team took a step back. 

All this has done is make it seem like the Renault group is kicking the can down the road with no real endgame. They’ve had a big rebrand to try and sell more road cars, replaced almost every key position since coming back, and even sold a quarter of the team to investors including actor Ryan Reynolds’ consortium, but are still more or less the same midfield team they’ve always been.

If you look at the other teams that Prost was going to emulate, the style of management was clear. Keep it simple, and build around an elite driver. Michael Schumacher at Ferrari surrounded by Jean Todt and Ross Brawn. Christian Horner and Helmut Marko building around Sebastian Vettel and now Max Verstappen. And Toto Wolff, who owns a third of the Mercedes team, controls another third and together with Lewis Hamilton had F1’s greatest reign of terror. 

Even if you forgive the underachievement of the Fernando era by describing him as an erratic seat-hopper entering his 40s, you had a multiple-race winner in Daniel Ricciardo. And in case you forgot, he was a proven top driver, who had a brilliant 2020 season despite already being swayed by another rebooting team in Papaya. 

To me, Alpine need to stop looking over the horizon as to what’s ahead, simplify its “too many cooks” management style and build around a stronger, stable core of key talent. Otmar Szafnauer was always going to be in for a hard time, he had three different people to answer to.

The way things are going, we’re either going to end up making the same old jokes when the next collapse happens or see Renault dress up the window advert for the highest bidder. Remember, we’ve been here with them many times before. I wonder if Michael Andretti’s still taking phone calls…

How do you solve a problem like Alpine? Let us know in the comments and see you after the Summer Break for another edition of D.R.E!

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Leader of a Broadcast Journalism University project that went WAY out of hand. Even managed to parlay it into a WTF1 gig for a little while.

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