Worst possible time for yet another restructuring of Alpine

20-01-2022 11:27
by GPblog.com
Column
Worst possible time for yet another restructuring of Alpine

For the second winter in a row, things are unsettled within Alpine. Just before a season on which so much depends, changes are being made again. Will this cost the French racing team dearly?

Renault's big plans

In 2016, Renault returned to Formula 1 with big plans. In five years, the French team had to win another world title. An ambitious goal for a group that only managed to win two titles in the past, but as a factory team there were some financial possibilities.

For the first season back in the sport Frederic Vasseur was chosen as team boss, but after a disappointing first season and dissatisfaction within the team, he resigned. The leadership of the team was taken over by Renault president Jerome Stoll and team owner Cyril Abiteboul. They too spoke of a bright future, but for now, it would not come to that.

Indeed, in 2018 Renault was embarrassed when the former CEO of Nissan (with whom Renault has a partnership), Carlos Ghosn, was arrested for fraud. Still active as a board member, he was eventually expelled from the company at the end of 2018, before being arrested again in 2019. With a bond, he was released and fled to Turkey. Interpol still wants to arrest him, but since his escape, he has not yet been apprehended.

After the Ghosn scandal, there was also good news in 2018. Renault had the upward trend, finished fourth among the constructors and struck a mega deal by bringing in Daniel Ricciardo. Abiteboul had worked hard for the Australian and managed to entice him into a switch to the French racing stable.

The downturn under Abiteboul

Whereas Red Bull took a new path with Honda and was immediately successful again, Renault fell back. Renault had missed the battle with the new regulations and dropped back in the championship to fifth place. McLaren, as Renault's customer, was even able to score more points, putting Renault's aerodynamics department under heavy fire.

In late 2019, Technical Director, Nick Chester, was fired by Renault and replaced by Pat Fry and Dirk de Beer. Fry has since been in charge of the French car's chassis and De Beer has gone to work as an aerodynamics specialist. However, the turmoil and changes did not help. Indeed, despite a decline by Ferrari, Renault again finished fifth among the constructors, this time also behind Racing Point.

Transition to Alpine

Renault's newly appointed CEO in 2020 had seen enough. Luca de Meo decided to continue the Renault project under a different name. In 2021, the French racing stable continued under the company's sports name: Alpine. A new name and a new frontrunner, as Ricciardo had by now withdrawn his trust in the team and opted for rival McLaren.

With the return of Fernando Alonso, Renault/Alpine brought in a man who knows what it is like to win with Renault. Indeed, he was the man who managed to give Renault its only titles in history in 2005 and 2006.

Alonso's arrival was not the only change, however, as even before the start of the season, De Meo turned the organization around at Alpine. In an attempt to bring a fresh wind of change to the team ahead of the new regulations for 2022, Marcin Budkowski and Davide Brivio were appointed as the new team bosses and Abiteboul suddenly had to leave. Laurent Rossi was appointed as the CEO of Alpine.

In 2021, Alpine finished fifth among the constructors, only narrowly holding off AlphaTauri, but with a new structure in place, the main focus was on 2022. Now, however, it remains to be seen how much will come of 2022, because once again there is chaos in the winter at Alpine. Budkowski left as team principal leaving only one 'team principal' and Alain Prost also left the team with slamming doors.

Criticism of Rossi

The four-time world champion decided not to accept a new contract as a non-executive director because he did not have a good relationship with Rossi. When Alpine came out with this news earlier than agreed with Prost, the Frenchman lashed out at his former employer.

Bad publicity for Rossi, who seems to have put an end to the previous organization in this way and is busy restructuring. The question is, however, whether this timing will work out well? A team that is rudderless in the run-up to a season with new regulations is far from ideal. Otmar Szafnauer left Aston Martin and is rumored to become the new team boss of Alpine, but he will not be able to start at Alpine until his Garden Leave from his former employer is over.

When that is the case and Rossi's new organization is all set, there is a good chance that Alpine will already be well behind the other manufacturers. After all, Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull Racing and McLaren are not sitting still and have had their teams in place for some time. In a time of so much change, that stability is precisely what often makes the difference. Fernando Alonso thus seems, not for the first time, to be at the wrong team at the wrong time.

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