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Alpine F1 Team

Where it went wrong for Alpine in 2023 - and how they're on the mend

Alpine suffered a slump in the 2023 season, dropping from fourth to sixth in the Constructors' after a turbulent season. Can it turn things around in the coming year?

Ocon Japan Saturday
Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

Alpine has ambitions of breaking into the top echelon of Formula 1 teams, and two of those provide interesting case studies for when HMS Enstone is currently at.

The closest is Mercedes - a team that has recently gone through a similar exodus of senior technical leadership and finds itself trying to piece its empire back together. This is where Alpine currently is.

On the other is Ferrari - a team that finally has settled down and has a canny team boss in place and is set to reap the rewards of not rolling the dice for the sake of being seen to do something. This is where Alpine needs to be.

Let us not forget, that Alpine is one of three pukka works teams on the grid, four if you count Red Bull RBPT-Honda, and so it needs to make the most of that integrated chassis and engine advantage it has at its disposal.

Some harsh lessons were learned in 2023, but there was just signs towards the end that Bruno Famin was beginning to mould the team.

2024 will be a big test of Alpine's future, but just where did it all go wrong for the team?

The team leadership and management

With the possible exception of Ferrari on the current grid, it does feel at times that there more boardroom politicking goes on at Alpine than at any other team.

The suits - the types who love to hear about the so-called five-year plans to return a team to championship-winning ways don't quite understand that turning an F1 team around and building a winning culture sometimes can take longer than a five-year plan.

The trouble with them is that year upon year, tangible progress is then needed to be made to prove that you are indeed making the desired amount of progress, and 'if the computer says no' then a change must obviously be made.

But success in F1 is unlike that in any other championship or sport. A decision now can have serious ramifications years down the line, and the one constant needed in Grand Prix racing is stability and the chance to embed a project into a team.

That's why Otmar Szafnauer's departure as Team Principal after the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix was shocking, with the board disagreeing with his vision of building the team up step-by-step.

To lose a Team Principal in the middle of a season is definitely rare, but Alpine also saw the departures of CEO Laurent Rossi, Sporting Director Alan Permane and Chief Technical Officer Pat Fry in the space of a few weeks.

That is four of the five most senior members of staff (Technical Director being the other) at a team all leaving within a short space of time - with Fry stinging as he left for Williams that the board had no intentions to see the team improve beyond fourth.

To his credit, Bruno Famin came in mid-season as interim Team Principal and steadied the good ship Enstone through its troubled waters. Famin is an engine guy by trade, and it seems as if the interim is set to be dropped from his job title moving forward.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Upgrades and the car

From a chassis and upgrade point of view, Alpine nailed its first go at a ground effects car, with the A522 proving a capable machine in the hands of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso.

Alonso threw a torpedo into the plans by announcing he was off to Aston Martin, having been far from impressed with the plans to gently shuffle him out of F1 for Oscar Piastri, who also ended up not racing for the team despite time and money poured into him.

But whilst the 2022 car was receptive to a steady stream of upgrades as the team consolidated fourth in the standings, the 2023 car, out of the box, was not competitive.

Its performance window swung wildly between low and high downforce circuits, with Ocon and new arrival Pierre Gasly largely uncomfortable. Upgrade packages didn't quite work as intended and the team was overhauled by both Aston Martin and McLaren through the season, coming in inhabit a dead-zone no man's land in the standings.

Aston Martin finished fifth on 280 points in 2023, Alpine hauled 120 in sixth whilst Williams in seventh were on 28 - 92 behind.

Moreover, the trackside operations were rusty, with Ocon's triple penalty night to forget in Bahrain an inauspicious start, with the team also struggling badly in Azerbaijan - although some leeway must be granted there because of the new parc ferme rules on Sprint weekends with cars entering it after just 60 minutes of practice. They will change for 2024.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

The power unit

But to Alpine's credit, after the upheavel of summer, the team knuckled down and the most impressive result was actually Ocon's fourth in Las Vegas, with its long blast down the Strip.

This came after the team had been trounced at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, with a double Q1 elimination and 15th and a DNF for Gasly and Ocon, respectively the reward.

The problem is that the Renault power unit is down on grunt compared to its rivals, and as F1 is now under an engine development freeze, performance-boosting upgrades are not permitted.

The team took a risk with its 2022 design to unlock more power, and believed that the trade-off between finding performance before the freeze versus reliability now was worth it, with the '22 engine suffering from water leaks and was the source of Alonso's outbursts towards the end of the year.

Thinking it had performance baked in, the team set about fixing the reliability, but found that the power unit is still down compared to rivals and despite seeking the ability to boost performance in 2023, other teams rejected Alpine's wish.

It means that other areas of the car must make up for the power unit deficiencies, placing greater emphasis on Matt Harman and his technical team to deliver.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

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