ANALYSIS: Alpine’s plan to avoid another lonely finish in the F1 constructors’ standings
Alpine spent 2023 in the abyss. They were comfortably better than the likes of Williams, AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo and Haas – but could only nip at the heels of those in front on a handful of occasions. The result was a lonely sixth in the constructors’ championship.
It wasn’t the easiest of seasons off-track either. CEO Laurent Rossi was moved aside, with Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer and Sporting Director Alan Permane also parting ways – all in the space of a few weeks. Their Chief Technical Officer Pat Fry left for Williams, later admitting he didn’t believe the team had enough drive to succeed.
That’s enough to destabilise any team. But Bruno Famin assumed the role of running the team – a position that is now permanent – and has set about restructuring, which includes recruiting a new Chief Operating Officer at chassis HQ at Enstone and another for their engine base at Viry.
He also sanctioned a complete overhaul of the car for this season, the team hampered by a 2023 machine that had a narrow operating window and lower than hoped for performance ceiling. Their technical lead Matt Harman says that everything bar the steering wheel is new.
With so much change, the tone coming from Alpine is 180 degrees different to last year, when they were optimistic they could tackle the championship’s top-three teams having finished fourth.
Their differences between their 2023 launch and the 2024 edition was an example of that. Last year, they hired the music venue Printworks in London for a flashy event that was all about the show.
They had football legend Zinedine Zidane on stage, invited hundreds and hundreds of guests and ran deep into the early hours with a club night. The car reveal itself, was just a small element of what was a lengthy event.
This year, they had a much smaller event in a space located in a bunker at their Enstone factory. The launch was just 30 minutes long, split equally between their World Endurance project and Formula 1. The respective cars were the stars. The chat was all about the drivers, the team, the ambition.
'We have to align all the planets'
Similarly, their ambitions are significantly more cautious and low key, perhaps knowing that in a period of so much change – both with their car and organisation – leaves them with a mountain to climb (but ultimately more potential).
“We have huge challenges ahead,” Famin told me when we caught up at Enstone after the launch. “We want to improve how the team works. We have a completely new car, front to back. We know we have a lot to do to fight with the top – but we want to go step-by-step, make the team work better and better.
“It's a big challenge, behind the trackside team, hundreds of people are working in Enstone and Viry. To be able to fight in front, we have to align all the planets, we have to have best car, the best development, the best pace, the best everything.”
As a result – and somewhat predictably – Famin didn’t want to set targets, not least because behind Red Bull, the rest of the field is more compressed than perhaps ever before.
'A long-term process'
“Our ambition is to show improvement," Famin continued. “I know that sometimes in F1 you go two steps forward and one step backwards.
“The field is very close. There are no more small teams so it’s difficult to predict. What I really want to see in 2024 is the general improvement in the attitude and in the results, of course – but we know it’s a long-term process.”
Like many of their rivals, Alpine have taken a lot of cues from the class-leading Red Bull with regards to their design. Harman says his team have taken a “very aggressive approach” to this year’s concept, with the team delivering an impressive effort to get a real car ready in time for their launch event.
It is anticipated that there will be more new bits and refinement on the car before the first Grand Prix in Bahrain with the squad “relentlessly upgrading” the car through the season as Harman reckons there is “an awful lot of potential to extract”.
If Alpine can deliver the kind of in-season development they produced in 2022, when every new part they brought to the track delivered lap time, maybe this campaign won’t be as lonely as the last.