French sportscar brand Alpine will make their debut in the 2021 Formula 1 season as the team begins a new chapter. It’s one of the many changes at the team that was previously called Renault as they look to build on their fifth place in the constructors' standings from last year.
There's a lot to be excited about but Alpine may need to be patient if they want to be successful.
Alonso is back and hungry for more
Fernando Alonso returns to the sport after a two-year absence. The double world champion has been racing in other motorsport events including the Dakar Rally, Daytona 24 Hours, Indy 500 and the World Endurance Championship.
Alonso still believes he can have success in F1 but admits he and Alpine will use 2021 as a building year before the introduction of the new regulations next year.
At 39-years-old, some think Alonso will face the same repercussions as Michael Schumacher’s comeback in 2010. But this is different. Alonso is still race sharp, the rules have not changed dramatically since he last raced in 2018 and he will be racing in the midfield, just like he was when he left McLaren three years ago.
Compare this to Schumacher and it’s a very different story. Schumacher only competed in Italian motorcycle events, picked up an injury which he never recovered from, went from racing at the front to competing in the midpack and had to deal with a completely different F1 on his comeback.
Alonso will race with two titanium plates in his upper jaw following his cycling accident when he was hit by a car in Switzerland last month. From what we have seen so far, it has not affected the Spaniard one bit.
Make or break year for Ocon
Esteban Ocon could cause Alonso problems and is under pressure to impress in 2021. He ended last season strongly with a maiden podium at the Sakhir Grand Prix and started to show glimpses of the form he had with Force India in 2017.
"The second year with a team you are more established, and I really want to start the year like it ended, which is on a much higher level than where we started," said Ocon. "I now know the team better. The team knows me better, they know what I need.
"All in all, I think it should be easier for me to work together on things and I will look to be ready straightaway."
Ocon will be wary that he does not follow Stoffel Vandoorne’s footsteps by being dominated by Alonso. Vandoorne was outqualified at every single Grand Prix by Alonso in 2018 which ended his F1 career.
Daniel Ricciardo had the better of Ocon last season so it’s important for the Frenchman to perform.
Alonso and Ocon will be driving for a team which has undergone major management changes. Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul was replaced by Laurent Rossi in January whilst former Suzuki MotoGP manager Davide Brivio joined the squad to become race director.
Brivio has been managing race-winning motorbike teams since the 1990s and led Suzuki to their first ever teams’ title and first riders’ championship since 2000.
His ability to get the best out of every member of a team and create an atmosphere to ensure success is exactly what Alpine need as they begin a new era.
Abiteboul’s departure was a surprise to many and Alpine do not have an outright team principal. Rossi is the team’s CEO and executive director Marcin Budkowski will coordinate the team’s car development.
It will take time for Alpine to adapt to this new structure and they have already stated a lot of their focus is on 2022 when the new technical regulations are introduced.
What to expect from Alpine in 2021
Pre-season testing was further evidence that 2021 will not see too much success for Alpine. They ran relatively trouble-free, amassing 396 laps (the fourth highest total). At best, their long runs were steady and on par with Ferrari so there isn’t too much to get excited about.
Alonso has stated “the car is solid and reliable, but slow and Q3 will be very difficult". The Alpine A521 has a bulky airbox designed to reduce the number of components lower down in the sidepod for aero gains.It’s an intriguing concept but not a revolution which other teams will copy.
This season is set to be a transitional year for Alpine so don’t expect big things from the French team who will look to pick up points and make use of Alonso’s stellar race pace.