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Alpine F1 Team

OPINION: Binotto would be wise to steer clear of Alpine omnishambles

The ex-Ferrari boss has been tipped as a potential replacement for Otmar Szafnauer at Alpine, but would be wise to avoid.

To news overview © XPBimages

The first mistake made by Renault upon its return to Formula 1 in 2016 was to commit to winning the World Championship in one of those five-year plans the suits tend to like.

That immediately puts a hard deadline in place with tangible progress needing to be evidenced year-upon-year for any chance of meeting the goal.

By the end of 2020 and the expiration of that original five-year plan, all the team had to show for its efforts was a couple of podiums picked up by a Daniel Ricciardo who had elected to jump the good ship Enstone before COVID-19 delayed the season start.

For 2021, Renault elected to rebrand their works team to 'Alpine' to raise awareness of the sportscar division of the group and out went Cyril Abiteboul, to be replaced by MotoGP expat Davide Brivio.

The team would go into the season without a recognised Team Principal in the familiar mould, instead in the unconventional position of having an executive director in the form of ex-FIA man Marcin Budkowski.

Although a win in Hungary through Esteban Ocon was claimed, Alpine was not cock-a-hoop. This was not a win on pure merit and needed Valtteri Bottas to go bowling at Turn 1 and the Mercedes pit-stop blunder with Lewis Hamilton even if Ocon drove a fantastic race.

Come 2022, and yet more senior management changes were in the offering as Budkowski (who it had worked hard to extract from the FIA) and Alain Prost were out with Otmar Szafnauer drafted in as Team Principal.

After good progress in 2022, the team is currently in disarray having lost its CEO Laurent Rossi, Team Principal and experienced Sporting Director Alan Permane in the space of a week. Whatever way you look at it, this is not the way to run a Formula 1 team.

The hopes of Renault seeing Alpine challenging for wins and titles can now be wiped out until certainly the latter half of the decade.

It is why Mattia Binotto, who has been linked with the vacancy, should clear and avoid the mess.

Alpine management changes

The decision to remove senior personnel was ultimately taken by Luca de Meo, the Renault Group CEO and the man who replaced the controversial Carlos Ghosn.

The root cause of Szafnauer's departure was his disagreement with the Renault higher ups over the speed at which the team could be regular race winners and title contenders.

Szafnauer is a methodical, canny operator who gets his ducks in a row without rushing and upsetting the process. The one thing he needed at Alpine was time, which he did not get.

Take Ferrari in the Michael Schumacher heyday, Mercedes in the Lewis Hamilton era or Red Bull and Max Verstappen now.

What do all of those combinations have in common? It took time to gel and for dominance to come.

Schumacher took five years to win a title with Ferrari, Verstappen six with Red Bull and the groundwork had been laid years before Hamilton left McLaren for 2013, but he was the final piece in the jigsaw.

The management of those teams has also been rock solid with only the odd departure over the years. Stability is key to F1 teams dominating, whether its Jean Todt, Toto Wolff or Christian Horner, or the designers and personnel working on the factory floor who actually build the cars.

Alpine does not have that and hasn't since Renault committed in 2016.

In eight seasons, it has had seven driver pairings, managed to lose their star driver in Fernando Alonso, the highest-rated rookie for years in Oscar Piastri, and is now looking for a fourth team boss in that time.

Whatever way you look at it, this is not creating a winning culture, and Binotto is far from the ideal candidate to take charge.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Binotto to Alpine?

The Renault power unit is believed to be 30bhp down on the offerings from Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Powertrains/Honda, leading to discussions at the F1 Commission meeting at Spa about engine parity.

Let us not forget that Binotto is actually an engine guy. He was repsonsible for turning Ferrari's poor first attempt at a turbo hybrid around and was Chief Technical Officer when the excellent 2017 and 2018 cars were built.

If only Sebastian Vettel and the team executed those seasons better, a world title could, and probably should, have gone to Maranello.

It was this success which led to Sergio Marchionne promoting Binotto to the role of Team Principal in 2019 to replace Maurizio Arrivabene, a move which divided opinions at the time.

As the power unit freeze rules did not come into play until 2022, why divert Binotto's attention away from such a crucial element of performance?

Ultimately Binotto would carry the can for Ferrari continued lack of title success, and aside from a couple of visits to Grands Prix, has been relatively quiet since his departure.

Should Binotto even want to come back to F1, the ideal circumstances would be restoring him to head up Ferrari's technical department, leaving Frederic Vasseur to slug it out with the likes of Wolff and Horner on political matters.

Whoever does end up as the Alpine Team Principal needs to be able to stand up to the higher-ups and tell them not to interfere and let them run a Grand Prix team as it needs to be, without the meddling and unrealistic expectations that Szafnauer was working under.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

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