With the '100 races plan', Alpine is falling into the same trap as Abiteboul

With the '100 races plan', Alpine is falling into the same trap as Abiteboul

06-04-2023 09:26

100 races, according to Laurent Rossi, is when Alpine need to be competitive in Formula 1 again. The counter now stands at 47 Grands Prix, but the French team has had no significant successes. After Cyril Abiteboul, Rossi seems to be falling into the trap: big plans, but still the same results.


Renault's big plans

In 2016, Renault returned to Formula 1 as a factory team. Having enjoyed success with Red Bull Racing as its engine supplier between 2010 and 2013, it wanted to win races again under its own name. The team did face a lot of criticism from Red Bull in 2014 and 2015, and its new hybrid engine was far inferior to its competitors, and Renault's customers let them know that too.

Renault thought it could perform better itself and embarked on a new F1 journey. In 2016, Lotus' old chassis finished ninth in the constructors' standings, before taking the first step towards P6 in 2017 and even fourth in 2018. The top three was in sight, and Abiteboul saw that too. All he thought he still needed was a star driver. The Frenchman then fetched Daniel Ricciardo to pursue a top-three spot. 

However, a big name turned out not to be all Renault needed. In 2019, the team was overtaken again by McLaren and in 2020 also by Racing Point. Ferrari suffering a setback in the latter year meant the team remained in fifth place in the constructors' standings. However, nothing changed the picture: Renault was not a contender.

Project Alpine F1

At the end of 2020, it appeared that Renault did not want to settle for that. Under the leadership of Luca de Meo (CEO of Renault) and Laurent Rossi (CEO of Alpine), the structure was completely overhauled. Abiteboul was sacked, and Alpine F1 was created. Success had to be achieved under the Renault sports car brand and in 100 Grand Prix time. Then the team could be successful.

The factories in Enstone and Viry were firmly established to compete with the top teams, with Fernando Alonso, a new star driver, recruited to replace the vanished Ricciardo. However, the result in 2021 was the same: fifth behind the top three and McLaren.

2022 was the year of truth with the new regulations for the cars. At Alpine, however, there was turmoil. The two team bosses appointed by Laurent Rossi, Marcin Budkowski and Davide Brivio (still active at Alpine, role unclear) were already gone and replaced by Otmar SzafnauerPat Fry had already been active for Renault since 2019, but was not appointed as the new technical director until early 2022, right before the new season.

Despite all these changes, the damage for Alpine was not too bad. They managed to gain a place over McLaren and finished fourth among constructors. They had a much better car at their disposal, but the engine was far from reliable. As a result, many potential points were lost.

Where teams will have hoped for progress, the opposite is the reality. Alpine were clearly the fourth team on the grid in 2022, but they have now lost that spot to Aston Martin. Copied or not, the British team simply has a faster car and is doing what Alpine has been dreaming of for years: competing with the top teams.

Meanwhile, Alpine falls between two spots again. It is stronger than all other customer teams but nowhere near the top teams. In qualifying, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly are consistently the drivers just behind the top teams. In 2023, however, there are four of them with the rise of Aston Martin, leaving Alpine to make do with the scraps.

In Australia, Alpine seemed to be keeping up with Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes for the first time, but a bizarre crash between Gasly and Ocon put an end to that. In a race where more points finally seemed to be on the cards, McLaren ran away with them.

More money needed for an F1 world title

It's a recurring theme at Alpine. The 100 races sounded like a nice plan, but so did Abiteboul. However, the team's problem is that it runs into a wall time after time. Somehow, it cannot make the step towards the top, and finances play a big part in that.

Alpine/Renault does not want to spend the amounts that Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing spend. Laurent Rossi stated in the Beyond the Grid podcast that the gap has narrowed because of the budget cap, but it still exists. The question is, are you going to make up the difference with that gap?

If Alpine wants that, it needs something special. Is Szafnauer the right person to be team principal? Is Pat Fry the right person to be technical director? And are Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly the right drivers to have behind the wheel? The answer to all questions seems to be 'no', so it is not surprising that Alpine is stuck behind the top teams.

Aston Martin is showing that the step is indeed possible. Led by Lawrence Stroll, the team has put a lot of money into the factory, and with Fernando Alonso, he has a driver in-house who can do something extra with such a fast car. Similarly, Mercedes made the move in the past with Toto Wolff. He argued to the management that if they wanted to compete for the titles, they needed more money. That money came with Wolff as team boss in 2013, and what that yielded in 2014 is well known.

With or without a budget cap, an F1 team's investments remain essential to deliver top performance. Alpine invests, but not to the extent the top teams do. Therefore, it is not surprising that they continue to dangle in the spot behind those top teams, especially considering it lacks special people in other areas as well.

It sounds simple, but if Alpine really wants to make a move, more money will have to be made available. With that money, the factory needs to be addressed, but it also needs to bring in an 'X-factor', especially in terms of drivers. If Renault does not want to come up with that money, it will have to adjust its ambitions. This way, you can wait another 1,000 races before a world title comes along.