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Alpine F1 Team

Alpine's new car has potential despite a huge limitation

Alpine launched its 2024 Formula 1 challenger alongside its new World Endurance Championship Hypercar in a much more subdued affair compared to last year's event in Printworks London, ditching the over-the-top venue used as a villain's lair in the latest Batman film for a bunker located within the premises of its Enstone base in Oxfordshire.

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Analysis
To news overview © Alpine

In F1 it has a lot of catching up to do after finishing sixth in the Constructors' Championship and in no man's land, over 100 points behind Aston Martin in fifth and over 100 points ahead of Williams in seventh.

Just two podiums between drivers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly came as the team faced problems with the A523 throughout most of last year, slipping well behind former midfield rivals McLaren in the development race.

Reliability was the standout issue as the team suffered a nightmare weekend at the Australian and Azerbaijan Grands Prix, while a massive dip in form midway through the season culminated in more shocking weekends at Hungary and Italy.

It's clear that a drastic change was needed for the upcoming campaign if it is to please the higher-ups at Renault, with Group CEO Luca de Meo present at the launch but not speaking on stage or to the media.

"We're not going to set any expectations in terms of results or positions," Team Principal Bruno Famin told media, including RacingNews365.

"A good 2024 season will be first to see good improvement in the way we work all together at the factory, to be able to measure creativity, to extract more from our talented people in Enstone and Viry Chatillon. If we can do that, we'll be able to develop our car."

"Only the steering wheel survived"

The team has started fresh this year, with Technical Director Matt Harman declaring "only the steering wheel survived" as he took to the stage to explain what had changed between the A523 and A524.

The technical team opted to do a bit of introspection while they had the extra aerodynamic testing hours to play with. The result should give them more opportunities to develop throughout the season, according to Harman.

"We've really tried to look at every single area of the car to make sure that we leave no stone unturned," he explained.

"We wanted to give ourselves a car that has potential through the year. We plateaued a bit with the A523, and with this car we have that potential."

Aside from the management changes at the top of the race team, which even Alpine Cars CEO Laurent Rossi did not survive, this was the biggest difference between Alpine and the teams that finished ahead of them.

Aston Martin, McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari all made significant car concept changes or improvements throughout the year while Alpine battled with an inconsistent platform and poor reliability.

The 2023 car suffered poor ride and could not be run low, thus not enabling the team to exploit the aero platform it was designed for. The A524 seeks to rectify that after the team underwent a massive engineering project to produce its rear suspension concept this year.

"The inboard rear suspension has been completely revised, the outboard suspension is the same. We've got a brand new kinematic on the rear suspension the allows us to take advantage on the manner with which the car behaves under certain conditions on the track," said Harman.

"We've also tried to optimise it aerodynamically. We took a bit of an aerodynamic hit for taking that kinematic, but we believe we will drive through that and get further beyond as we develop the car further."

Understanding the "car potential"

The term bandied around by the team throughout the launch when describing the A524 was 'aggressive'. It was confident enough to show off a full version of its design in front of media instead of a liveried show car and it certainly looked like it took inspiration from the best of the grid last year.

Gasly noted that while it was not visually too much of a departure from last year's car, the detail has gone into refining the design under the bodywork.

"It might not be visually very different, but it is when you look into details. We've been aware of all the changes from last year in terms of suspensions, aero, chassis, the way the PU is integrated within the car," Gasly told media, including RacingNews365.

"So it does bring a lot of differences, which is all small details added together that have a pretty big impact on behaviour and car potential."

Understanding their "car potential" is one of the reasons why Alpine is not willing to set any expectations early on according to Famin, as they face the early races getting to grips with this concept.

"We don't know where we will be on the grid at the start of season, because quite a lot of teams have been had the same approach in having a new car," he explained.

"That's why it's very difficult to set any expectation in terms of position, it will be more dynamic we will show in the car development or in the way we work within the team as a whole that will make a difference."

All of this does not detract from the fact that Alpine is effectively carrying around a huge limitation that no other team has: lack of power. Famin was honest about their power unit limitations when asked about whether it will hold them back this year, but felt their focus on car design should not worry people too much.

With the recent F1 Commission meeting agreeing to an increase to four power units per driver, the team could end up running their engines harder in exchange for picking up some grid penalties.

While it might not be a good look throughout the year, as we know points are handed out on Sundays in F1 and it feels like Alpine has a plan on how to recuperate as many of those as possible in 2024.

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