Some fans may already be aware that the reason for Alpine’s huge reliability issues present in the 2022 season was due to the team purposefully pushing the Renault E-Tech RE22 power unit to its limits. There was a good reason for this, and it’s a gamble neither we nor the team will see pay off until the start of the 2023 season.
The gamble was simple. As an engine freeze has been placed on the teams until the end of 2025, (i.e., a complete block on development for the four power unit manufacturers that began in September 2022.) Alpine didn’t want to hold back on performance as they wouldn’t be able to improve the power output until 2026. Until then, the only changes they can make are ones that affect reliability. For 2022, they sacrificed reliability in order to harvest as much horsepower as possible. The idea is to fix reliability later.
While it would have disastrous effects during the 2022 season, it could possibly pay off as early as the 2023 season.
Renault’s F1 engine chief, Bruno Famin, agreed it’s a risky strategy, “We took quite a lot of risk. The risk we took was in trying to develop as light as possible the engine, and taking the risk not to do the full validation process we would have done normally.
“We really wanted to push to the very last moment, and sometimes a bit too late, because we had some issues. But we really wanted to push the maximum on the development side.”
“Some issues” were a severe loss of points for both drivers, Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, after several DNFs. According to Alonso at the Mexican GP, “I think it was around minus 50 [points], so now we have another eight. So it’s minus 58 points or minus 60 in a year, which is really unacceptable on my car.”
Famin acknowledges this but holds firm that it was the right call, “I think the strategy was a good one, even if we have got some issues. We had problems in Singapore; two in fact which were very strange because to have two different problems in eight laps were quite incredible.
“But all the other problems we had were much more on the auxiliaries side; water pump, fuel pump. And this is something we are quite optimistic that we will be able to solve for ’23.”
Alpine have been working to improve reliability (including a new water pump) with improving being the main focus for 2023.
“We are going to work and we are already working deeply on details, especially on the auxiliary side,” said Famin. “But the second part is that we are pushing our validation processes; trying to improve it and trying to do it in the best possible way for a much better way than we have done for 2022.
“If we have not done it fully in 2022, it was not because we did not want to. Instead, it is because we preferred to push on the development side. So, the target for 2023 is to keep the same level of performance and to make everything reliable.”
So how can the team make gains after the engine freeze? The engine isn’t the only way to generate pace, it’s just one of the most obvious. Improvements in aerodynamics, altering the exhaust line, energy management, are all things teams can do to improve performance. 2023 will determine whether this will all work out for Alpine.