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Everything You Need to Know About the Mess That is Alpine

Alpine are in shambles, but behind they scenes, they have been for a while....

The Alpine Formula 1 team is in shambles. They’ve experienced a massive management clean-out having lost their CEO, team principal, sporting director, and their chief technical officer all at the same time. Previous leaders at the team have called Alpine essentially delusional in their expectations, and suggested that this is something built into the team by a faulty company culture and the almighty “Project”. 

The big headline was team principal, Otmar Szafnauer, leaving after a “mutual agreement” was reached. Szafnauer has since explained the reason for his departure citing a timeline disagreement that really highlights the issue with Alpine. 

“It was definitely mutual,” Szafnauer said. “I laid out the timelines as to how long it takes in F1 to effect change. You know, it’s not a football team – it’s only two [drivers] and 998 technicians, engineers, and aerodynamicists, and to change a culture takes time. 

“The timeline wasn’t accepted by the bosses of Renault – they wanted it quicker and that’s what we disagreed upon. So, yeah, mutual.” 

His comments are telling because Alpine was created in chaos from the start. 

Alpine: Born From Chaos

Laurent Rossi

At the end of 2020, Daniel Ricciardo left the team formerly known as Renault after two years. Coinciding with his departure, Renault axed team principal, Cyril Abiteboul. The team was rebranded to Alpine for the 2021 season and Laurent Rossi was installed as team CEO. 

At the end of Rossi’s first year as CEO, he sacked four-time World Champion, Alain Prost, from his advisor and non-executive director role at the team while also ridding himself of technical chief, Marcin Budkowski, and engine chief, Rémi Taffin. 

So behind the scenes it was chaos and it wasn’t much better for the drivers. 

Two-time World Champion, Fernando Alonso, left unexpectedly to join Aston Martin in 2022. Already Alpine were caught by surprise but things would get worse when their junior driver, Oscar Piastri, whom they expected to replace Alonso, refused their offer and joined McLaren. This could’ve been avoided had Alpine simply offered Piastri a valid contract. 

Since then, Alpine have fallen backwards in the championship from a respectable fourth to a floundering sixth. 

The company has sold a quarter of the team to several investors, including actor Ryan Reynolds. 

A pivotal figure would turn out to be Bruno Famin, who was moved from the engine division at Alpine to motorsport vice-president. In that role, Famin ousted Rossi as CEO and has since been installed as interim team principal at Alpine. 

Is Rossi Solely to Blame?

Former team leaders have come out to speak against the team’s leadership and board as the primary reasons for the team’s failures off the track. 

Prost told L’Equipe that during his time at Renault, “How many times did I hear in the hallways of the headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt that F1 was a simple sport that could be managed from home by the men in place. 

“That was a huge mistake, as was proven with the last of the directors, Laurent Rossi, whom Luca de Meo let go a week ago.” 

In fact, it is Rossi himself who is the primary reason for the poor culture and leadership at Alpine, according to Prost. 

“Rossi is the most beautiful example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, that of an incapable leader who thinks he can overcome his incompetence by his arrogance and lack of humanity towards his people.

“He was Alpine’s boss for 18 months and thought he understood everything from the outset, yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. His management stopped the momentum the team had built since 2016, achieving these podiums and that win. 

“I love this team and seeing it in this state today saddens and distresses me.” 

He isn’t the only Formula 1 figure that disagrees with or questions Alpine’s decisions with Red Bull driver, Sergio Perez, surprised at their decision to remove Szafnauer. Perez stressed that “any person in that position” needs to be given time “because all these things in Formula 1 take massive time.” 

Considering that Rossi had already lost his position before Szafnauer’s firing, it is unlikely that he is solely to blame for Alpine’s current state. Prost was fired by Rossi, so likely doesn’t have very nice things to say about him, but former team principal, Cyril Abiteboul, believes that it’s the team’s management as a whole that is the problem. 

The recent personnel shift “probably shows management impatience and dissatisfaction with the results,” Abiteboul told France Info

“And probably there was some arrogance at the beginning of the season,” he continued. “If you don’t want to acknowledge reality, then you’re going to keep dreaming images in front of yourself, and that’s what happened now. They have not made the same great progress as competitors such as McLaren and Aston Martin.” 

Considering that both McLaren and Aston Martin have made huge leaps in performance, something which Alpine would very much like to replicate and all of that is part of “the project” – a vague and allegedly unrealistic plan for Alpine’s success as a brand and team. 

“The Project”

Bruno Famin

The project seems to dictate everything Alpine do but while it’s clear what the plans goals are, to regularly fight for wins, it isn’t clear how exactly the team plans to achieve that. 

Here’s what Bruno Famin told the media at the Belgian Grand Prix, “At Alpine we have a fascinating project, Alpine as a brand. Two weeks ago we launched phase two of the project with a very ambitious plan for new road cars, for expansion and so on. 

“What is really super-interesting for all of us is that project is based on motorsport programmes. The key one, of course, is Formula 1… So, after phase two of the brand, we are going to phase two of the Formula 1 project. 

“We have ambition as well, and we have decided to make some changes in order to go faster in reaching the level of performance we are aiming for.” 

That’s a lot of words to say, we want to launch a brand of cars and use Formula 1 as a marketing tool. 

The problem Alpine are facing today is that they don’t have a single remaining senior-figure left since the team first laid out their plans for F1 victory seven years ago. At the time it was a five-year plan which has since evolved into a 100-race plan. 

This plan has received criticism from Abiteboul who asked, “Why not 120, why not 80? I don’t understand it. 

“When you start putting forward a plan like that, you’re sure to get it wrong because you don’t know what others are doing in Formula 1. Aston Martin’s colossal investments, Red Bull’s incredible momentum, none of that is going to stop just because Laurent Rossi’s 99th grand prix came along.” 

The reason Abiteboul doesn’t think it’s an effective plan is because Alpine simply doesn’t provide enough financial resources to achieve it. 

“The problem with Renault has always been that it has big plans, but it doesn’t invest enough money in those plans. The bar is raised every year, but the financial resources remain the same, but that’s something the board doesn’t want to hear.” 

Pat Fry’s Departure Highlights Alpine’s Culture Problem

Pat Fry was Alpine’s chief technical officer and he wasn’t fired, he left to take the same role over at Williams. This is very telling and Williams team principal, James Vowles, believes he knows why Alpine have such a problem. 

“It’s a misalignment of, ‘This year we should be third in the championship,’” Vowles told Autosport. “That causes the friction you’re seeing, which ends up in a decision.

“The board are expecting one thing, the results are suggesting something else and there’s no way out. The proactive way is that, as you see the journey isn’t going towards it, you manage the expectations of everyone and show the pathway of what you need to do to change that. I’m more for that because reactive will never end well, fundamentally.

“I’m very much a believer in behaviours and characteristics. By that I mean you need to have empowerment, you need to know how to train up the next generation of individuals, you know how to put structure in place. 

“It’s not about blame, it’s about fundamentally having a policy that allows failure as long as you capture it correctly and talk about it.”

Vowles here suggests that Alpine do not allow room for failure and will react to problems rather than be proactive with them causing their leadership to resemble a merry-go-round rather than a solid foundation on which the team is built around. 

How Can Alpine Fix This?

Quite simply, Alpine needs stability and as little interference from management as possible, which is something that has historically worked in Formula 1. Look in particular at the team Ferrari built around Michael Schumacher. 

Ferrari during the 2000s was anchored by Jean Todt, who protected the team from the politics of the road car business aspect of Ferrari and built the racing team around Michael Schumacher.

For something more recent, Red Bull founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, helped guarantee the team’s autonomy, which allowed team principal, Christian Horner, to build teams around Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen. 

It’s something that Prost agrees with, “If you look at the great success stories from the last 30 years, you will see a simple structure – unlike an industrial organisation chart – built around three or four strong personalities coupled with a winning driver. They had the codes of F1, the agility and flexibility to let their people make decisions.” 

Prost continued to say that Alpine had already had this exact structure in place beforehand in the 2000s, the last time that Renault saw potential title-winning success. 

“When you look back at Renault’s success,” Prost said, “you will find a man, Flavio Briatore, and a legendary driver, Fernando Alonso, supported by a management team who at the time implemented this philosophy of quick decision-making by specialists.” 

While Alpine are certainly being ambitious with their “project”, it may very well be outside of their capabilities. Perhaps this isn’t the case, but if that’s true then it is Alpine’s ridiculous expectations from its leadership and their unwillingness to accept failure that is holding them back. 

Szafnauer told ESPN, “I’ve always said Mercedes took five years from buying a winning team. Red Bull took five years from buying Jaguar, which was a pretty solid mid-grid team. It takes time. That’s what it takes.” 

“The Project” doesn’t allow for time, despite that being the one thing the team desperately needs, and changing personnel so regularly is only going to set the project back further. Whether Alpine have learnt their lesson after this recent shift is anyone’s guess, but we will be keeping our eyes open. 


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