F1 mid-season review: Alpine right back to square one

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To lose one member of senior management maybe be regarded as misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.

So, who knows then what Oscar Wilde would have wrote about Alpine losing three members of senior management in the space of a week leading into the summer break.

First, Laurent Rossi was relieved of his CEO duties and moved onto “special projects” within Alpine cars, then during the Belgian Grand Prix it was announced that Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer and Sporting Director Alan Permane would be leaving.

The timing of that annoucement was curious. Announcing the departure of two of the most senior members of the team during the middle of a Grand Prix weekend is far from the norm, with disagreements between Szafnauer and the higher-ups over the time-scale of when Alpine can be expected to be fighting at the front of the field.

One of those much-vaunted ‘100 race plans’ (F1-speak for a five-year plan) was announced as the target to get the Enstone squad fighting once again for wins and titles.

Tangible progress was made in 2022 with the team breaking clear of the midfield and finishing fourth in the standings with all its upgrades working well and pushing the team geniuely forward.

In 2023, Szafnauer wanted a ‘better fourth’ whereby the team would comfortably fourth-quickest and begin to make inroads into the top three of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes – cue Aston Martin spoiling that idea.

But it has just not happened for the team.

It was messy operationally in Bahrain with Esteban Ocon’s flurry of penalties while the Azerbaijan GP weekend led to Rossi publicly blasting the team as ‘amateurish’ next time out in Miami.

By electing to twist its senior management, Renault Group boss Luca de Meo has all but ensured the 100-race plan will fail.

Whoever comes in as Team Principal is going to have their own ideas and philosophy which will take years to embed and change the culture.

Take Red Bull and Mercedes – F1’s most successful teams since 2010. Both have had long-term bosses in place and success has eventually come.

Alpine is a long way from even getting into contention for regular podiums, let alone wins on merit.

The decision to replace Szafnauer and Permane has just set it back a few more years at least.

Esteban Ocon

Ocon’s season-opener was about as bad as it could get.

He was judged to have parked outside his grid-box in Bahrain, and then suffered multiple penalties for failing to serve penalties incorrectly, speeding in the pit-lane. It was a vicious cycle.

The wipeout in Australia on the final lap restart with Gasly was six of one, half a dozen of the other with the two being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

His performance throughout the Monaco weekend was one of the best across the entire grid across the first 12 races, with third on merit in Qualifying and then banking a much needed podium in the race.

Since then, he hasn’t finished higher than eighth in a Grand Prix, although was seventh in the Austrian Sprint.

If that podium is removed from the records, Alpine would lose nearly a quarter of its total points down to 42 from the 57 it currently has.

The best result would therefore become Gasly’s seventh in Monaco – but Ocon is determined to remain optimistic despite the fact that Aston Martin, and latterly McLaren have been able to take huge steps forward while Alpine has not.

Pierre Gasly

A great deal of sympathy is required for Gasly after his switch from AlphaTauri.

The environment he has joined has not be the best for a driver coming in and looking to establish himself alongside Ocon.

His standout was the fantastic Saturday performance at Spa-Francorchamps, securing sixth on the Sprint grid and then banking third in the race itself.

That was a much-needed boost for the team reeling from the Szafnauer and Permane exits.

Other than that, it has been a season of not many highlights for Gasly, who was extremely unlucky to be hit by Lance Stroll at Silverstone and then taken out in Hungary at Turn 1 in a chain-reaction accident caused by Zhou Guanyu ramming Daniel Ricciardo into Ocon who then took out Gasly.

The Frenchman had been set to go dancing around the outside, but the incident just about sums up Alpine’s 2023: a lot of promise but events transpiring to snatch it away.

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