Tremain: How the Alps survived the controversy to take the fight to McLaren

What a month ago in the Alps! A rollercoaster with some great lifts, but also some brutal descents full of power. On the right track – where these things really matter – they continue to give their closest rival McLaren a very hard hit.

But then came Fernando Alonso’s announcement that he was going out in what seemed, on the outside, a very happy marriage.

Then Oscar Piastre, a newcomer, claimed that when Albine started waving an engagement ring in his direction, they weren’t actually enjoying a binding engagement.

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Let’s look at the good stuff first.

When Renault became the Alps for 2021, their stated goal was to become the team closest to the top three (that year, the final standings in the Constructors’ World Championship were Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Racing Point, Alpine and the humble Ferrari).

Last year they passed Racing Point, which switched to Aston Martin with Ferrari moving up to third, but McLaren finished fourth with 275 points to 155, which was just enough for fifth. And so at the start of 2022, the first full season since Covid-19, the goal was to beat Woking.

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Even on the Monday after Hungary, things on the surface seemed to be going quite smoothly for the team, which went through a reasonable degree of reorganization at the start of the year after Luca de Meo was appointed as chief executive of the group following the arrest of Carlos Ghosn in 2018.

Cyril Abiteboul and former FIA technical mentor Marcin Budkowski left for Laurent Rossi, who became Alpine CEO in 2021 with primary responsibility for the car company, and this year, realist and well-respected Otmar Szafnauer replaced Aston Martin as team manager.

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At the same time, the team bought back shares in Alpine Racing Limited owned by Gerard Lopez from Genii Capital, and recently Rossi has made no secret of his desire to find a new investment partner to facilitate future growth.

While a budget cap is an obvious consideration, Alpine has to work on strictly regulated funding from the parent company. The Enstone and Viry-Chatillon plants have been expanded and modernized in recent years, but Alpine is seeking to add another 75 people, bringing staffing levels closer to the biggest difference of around 850.

Rossi has also made it clear that he is interested in discussing the power unit supply with any parties keen to start their own new F1 teams.

Laurent Rossi took over as CEO of Alpine in 2021 and made some important decisions, including letting go of consultant Alain Prost.
There was an announced bump earlier this year when Rousey released Alain Prost from his consulting role, and the four-time champion’s angry reaction to not leaving quietly suggested their relationship was already a bit strained.

Rossi clearly had strong opinions of his own, and long after engine man Remy Taffin was abandoned at the end of 2021, he brought in former Peugeot Talbot Sport and FIA engineer Bruno Famen to oversee engine research and development at Ferry Chatillon. Famin, along with former MotoGP team boss Davide Brivio, is a member of the Alpine Steering Committee, which is led by the busy Rossi.

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The technical side of the operation, which is based in Enstone, is run by longtime engineer Pat Fry – arguably F1’s most talented engineer. That’s the way this quiet, often underrated man prefers to, ironically, also play his usual hands-on role in helping McLaren find their way again between 2018 and 2019 in the wake of Honda’s grueling years.

Alpine also runs a successful Driver Academy (more than it in a moment) which has recently included the likes of Oscar Piastre and Cho Ganio, and now has Jack Doohan, Ole Caldwell, Victor Martins and Caio Collette on its books.

This year they opened the Rac(H)er Program, which seeks to establish a clear and specific roadmap for increasing the diversity of talent in leadership or engineering within the company. “The Alps can no longer deny themselves a body of female talent, whose skills and experience are a real factor in performance,” de Meo said.


Alpine boasts a talented academy that once included Oscar Piastre (center), Cho Gagno (right) and now has Jack Doohan (left)
On the track, in the six races since Canada in June, they have done well in beating McLaren, scoring an extra 35 points over their nearest rival – this leaves the Anglo-French team with 115 points in fourth and McLaren behind. Day 95. Still close, but there is now a clear trend working in the former’s favor as we go into the final eight races of the year.

The above helps explain why things came to the surface before Fernando’s surprise announcement, not least because he got the results after a few disappointing spells earlier in the season, and appears to be coping well with teammate Esteban.

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Some suggest that both of them can be tough clients when you’re sitting across from a pit garage, but despite some rather fraught moments on the track this past year and this, they seem to act like a happy couple of brothers. On top of all that, Fernando was expected to sign a new contract at any moment.

He did, of course – but not with the Alps. In the aftermath, it turned out that he became disenchanted with the tendency to criminally examine each of his performances after each race, the conclusion being that this was to try and find out if the age (he turned 41 on July 29) might have burdened his performance. He has since made it clear that he left because he felt the team had lost faith in him and were not ready to offer him more than one year contracts.


Despite the occasional tough fight between the two, it seems Ocon and Alonso’s relationship has gone well
The Alps were shaken, and it did so again when Oscar came with an instant shock of its own: publicly rebutting their announcement that he would join Esteban in their 2023 squad. Alpine Academy had nurtured him since his days in Formula Renault, and part of Fernando’s problem was the three-pronged conundrum. To two because they didn’t want to lose Oscar to another team and had already re-signed Esteban until 2024.

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The Contract Recognition Board may determine the final destination of the young Australian, but the way Alpine is likely to lose two important engines suggests there are still some improvements to be added to the in-house management system.

In the meantime, the world is waiting to see if Fernando loses some of his impressive momentum as his starting point nears, and how that could affect the Alps in the fight with McLaren. However, his impressive performance in Belgium suggests he may just be a dream for the Woking team. But McLaren’s competition in 2023 could have a significant impact on their ability to remain at the top of McLaren next season.

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