Podcast F1 Unlocked
FULL TRANSCRIPT: Read every word from Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi's Beyond The Grid podcast interview
On the latest episode of Formula 1's Beyond The Grid podcast, Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi joins host Tom Clarkson to discuss everything from his upbringing to Alpine's 100 race plan – as well as the team's new driver line-up, the Oscar Piastri saga and much more...
Below you can read the full transcript of the episode, listen below in the audio player, or head here to catch it on your preferred platform.
Tom Clarkson: Laurent, thank you very much for coming on the show. It's great to see you. Now, before we get into it, I want to emphasize to the listeners how unique you are in the Formula One Pitlane because you're CEO of a road car company and a Formula One team. I don't know how you have the time.
Laurent Rossi: I don't. But thank you for noticing. I don't. But I'm trying to balance the two activities a bit more, especially since the arrival of Otmar last year.
TC: Just tell me what a typical day looks like for you. How much of your life is Alpine road costs and how much of it is Formula One?
LR: Well, it's changed over time. In the first few years, it was 60% of my week is Formula One. And 40% of the rest. Obviously, the road cars, as well as being an executive of the Renault group, because this is also a duty of mine, which was not good. It was not doing a service to any of the areas, but I had to do it for Formula one sake because I needed to figure out things and decide for myself what type of organization I wanted to put in place and which areas you need to reinforce, which I did.
And I think now it's gone the other way around. More like a trade and contain Formula One to the weekend. And I'm trying to not do all of them, even though it's very hard, which is a bit better. So basically during the week I have the road car job, during the weekend I have the Formula One job.
TC: Talk about the culture that you have at Alpine. What does Alpine stand for? What? Tell me more about the culture.
LR: Well, we're very lucky that we inherited a brand that's born from racing. So, the founder, Jean Rédélé, back in 1955, created only race cars. He had no interest in road cars back then. It's only Renault, when they acquired Alpine, they decided to create road cars. And so our true DNA is racing. And as a matter of fact, after Luca de Meo decided to regroup all of the sports activities, the motorsports activities of Renault under one banner, the Alpine one, we have now gone back to our roots with racing being at the center of everything. Alpine means racing. This is what we are.
TC: And what about you? Are you a racer? Did you growing up in Corsica? Imagine the tour De Corsica rally and things like that. Is racing part of you as well?
LR: Yeah, a big influence. The tour, of course, was obviously the big event of the year for for everyone, and especially for myself, my father, being in mechanics, sometimes racing, sometimes helping racers himself because he could fix cars and all. Now, I was kind of like lucky enough that in my family it's hard working people, no diploma really. So they basically worked from 16 years old and never stopped. So they basically forced me into considering studies, which I did. So it was not an option to become a racer or anything like that. It could be a hobby like my father did, but only the real job from their own words. And I have to say it's probably for the better because I love what I'm doing. I love the strategic part and execution part of the job. I love being also involved in sports activities. So, in fact, I have the best of both worlds today.
TC: Do you find it inspiring being involved in sport, being surrounded by racing drivers and brilliant technicians?
LR: Absolutely. I think up until the day I started this job in Formula One, I was always using and I'm still using that even more so now. Sports metaphors, analogies. For me, sport is basically the essence of, effort, commitment to a result and excellence. So it was always for me, something that I would bring into my world, whichever world I was in, whichever career I was following.
And now it's almost just natural because it's part of it every day. And you have to admit those champions as well as those engineers committed to that, the engineers, mechanics, everyone truly committed to that sport. It's just mind blowing like the efforts, the amount of their lives they put into that thing, just for entertainment of others is just mind blowing, it's admirable.
TC: And you get to deliver the competitive juices on the squash court. You still play don't you? Rumour in the paddock.
LR: Yes. I try to keep that as my, if only activity, at least the central one. I play, let's say two times a week when I can. So because squash is kind of easy, right? You just need to find a partner and 45 minutes. So chances are at 9 p.m. after a long day of work, you can always find someone. So I try and do that and then over the weekend of Grand Prix, it's a bit more difficult because squash is not that popular.
TC: Have you found a racing driver to play squash with?
LR: I hear that Carlos Sainz.
TC: Senior was a champion.
LR: Very good. And the son, the driver, you know, the other driver, both of them are not bad either. But I guess the schedule is difficult. Esteban kind of plays a bit. I think they will move to paddle, which is the most popular and probably less traumatic activity.
TC: Carlos Sainz, Junior against Laurel Rossi is a match I want to see.
LR: Perhaps the only place where I could beat him
TC: Let's move on track and talk about Alpine's 2023 season. What are your goals?
LR: Two years ago I said, and everybody was like, they are you buying time. We are on a 100 race journey, and I maintain that. It takes time to turn around a ship like that to basically get to where Mercedes is, was in fact, Red Bull is. All these teams have taken like a good three, four years, five years, for some Ferrari, even longer to get back to the podiums. And so we are on this path, hopefully. The first two years of that kind of four or five year plan are going well. They delivered according to our expectations. We finished fifth in 21, fourth in 22. So it's only natural now we're looking towards the other spots up there on the podium. But I have to say we are also very well aware that the gap to third is like it's big. So I think this year, which is a critical one, we need to show that we are capable of getting closer to these guys. Of course, to beat them would be ideal. So everyone has that as a as a stretch target, a moon-shot, I would say, but the minimum is to finish fourth and start like bridging that gap to third.
TC: Because it was 342 point. That's the gap between you and Mercedes which is...
LR: Which is roughly three times more points the gap than the points we scored. So it's, it's a hell of a lot.
TC: Yes, it's a big gap. So just closing that gap.
LR: Yeah. And to close that gap, there's no other way around. You need to basically climb on the podiums every now and then. You cannot just finish like five, six, seven every race. Which is already good, because let me remind you that two years ago we were barely fighting for a point here or there that was all daily, if you will. So it's a it's a tremendous amount of progress. But now it's like climbing a mountain. Every time you go higher, every amount of effort to get the same point is a bit more difficult to the organism and like right to your, you breathe a bit more difficult like in a difficult way to get there. So I guess we're there now and we need to stay there and and continue.
TC: When you say you think you're there now, are you there in terms of the technological capability of Enstone and Viry. I was there not so long ago and I was blown away at how you've transformed that place since Renault came back into Formula One in 2016.
LR: Yeah, that's right. We're not there yet. Obviously, it's going to take a bit of time because, of course, the cost cap is the best thing this up and to us because it's leveling up the playing field. But at the same time, the advantage required of a 20 years of overinvesting compared to others, you're not going to catch up like that.
But we are we are trying. So we basically investing heavily, massively in all of those facilities, equipment, resources and not just physical resources, people resources as well. So we're trying to we're not trying. We are on a path to getting closer and closer to a top team structure, which we didn't have before. And one of the big things we had this year, which is getting us even closer to that, is, for instance, that testing like bed rolling bench in Viry where you can try the chassis and the engine together.
So it's basically kind of like not allowing you to oversee 70% of the problems you would see while driving on track, which gets you in a place where, well, usually every year it was always impressive to see the top three teams arriving for the first day of Barcelona and Bahrain and just like, boom, get on to it like we 40 laps and everyone, every other team was like trying to fix the little problems.
We have that facility now, since this year. So we basically knew when we arrived in Bahrain, we would just completely go through our program without having to worry about anything. So that's that's a difference that something new.
TC: Was that a big investment?
LR: It is a big investment, yeah. You have to transform an entire like engine testbed, if you will, expand the room. It's a big investment. It's like in terms of CapEx, capital expenditure, it's more than 100,000. We in the vicinity of a million and more so, but it's an important one and we train and do that in Viry and Enstone, in both places obviously. And every time I'm saying we're trying. We're not trying we're doing it. We have a program that we devised after a year of analysis, the first year when I arrived, which is called the Mountain Climber, which is the Gap bridging gap to Benchmark and or best in class, because to win, you basically need to be, at the very least, a benchmark in all areas and best in class in some areas, Aero and so forth and so on. So we're trying to get there. We devise a program of investment, of hiring, of organizational changes to get there. And we're on our way there.
TC: You used the expression a moment ago, overspending at the front of the grid, the Mercedes, the Ferrari, the Red Bulls. And do you think Renault underestimated the situation at Lotus because there had been ten years of underinvestment in your team while the others were?
LR: I am not sure they underestimated it. I just simply think that the magnitude of investments made by all others was not in the realm of capabilities that we had as an automotive group, back then. I was not there, so I couldn't say. But I have to say, knowing, well, the intricacies of a group like Renault, I can't imagine that we're talking about like seven, eight, 900 million, perhaps a billion every now and then of investment by those top teams, even by Toyota back then when they tried to succeed in Formula One, per year. This is like three times, four times the order of magnitude of what you usually spend, especially now on the cost cap. It's easy to we have the numbers. We couldn't afford that. Like a group like Renaults was the responsibility of 140,000 people cannot overspend they're at the risk of, you know, losing on the other side, which is the car business, which is paying for all of this. We have to remember that. And so you cannot put the the jobs and lives of so many people on the line just to be competitive in the sport. It was not a rational thing to do. Now we're getting in an era where we can compete with the same amount of money. Of course, we still need to catch up on those things, but we can do it gradually.
TC: Do you still believe the adage, Win on Sunday? Sell on Monday?
LR: Yes, I do. I do. It was always already true back then when you had v10, V12 and and you would sell that to your customer of a four in line engine, because it was selling your expertise, it was selling your capability to develop high end pieces of technology. And so if I can do that, I can certainly do your everyday engine.
Don't worry about that. But it's even more true now because we're getting in a very interesting time where motorsports and the car industry are converging. Well, first of all, simply because of electrification. Now the rule of the game is to optimize the use of the battery, everywhere. Whether you have a fully electric car or an hybrid like an F1, it's the same exact principle.
And as a matter of fact, there is even an acronym for that, which is a battery management system. And we have the same acronym in Formula One and in the rest of the industry, which is how much of torque power can I get from this battery and how much can I replenish the battery to deliver that torque and power repetitively?
It's the same problem, exact problem for both, except one car is delivering a thousand horsepower, the other one is covering a billion km. So it's a bit of a different story. But at the end of the day it's the same problem. So the convergence becomes quite interesting because if you win on Sunday, you can pretty much use that experience and know how on Monday and put it in the car that people will want to buy.
TC: Ford and Audi are joining Formula One just just around the corner. Is that convergence you talk about, the reason why this sport is proving so irresistible to OEMs, to manufacturers?
LR: Well, I wouldn't speak for others, but I'm assuming, yes. There is something there, because if F1 was irrelevant to them, they would not invest, since F1 becomes something that you can leverage for the sake of commercial purposes. Yes, it is interesting. And then again, it's also something that shows who you are. For us, Renault, F1 was pretty much threatened two years ago or three years ago because the results were not coming and the investment was still, that even though it was not 800 million a year, was still significant.
And then Luca de Meo arrived and said I am not going to be the CEO that is going to stop 40 years, 40 plus years of Formula One, and it's part of our DNA. So he saved Formula One. He saved the DNA of Renault. But by saying that, he said the DNA of Renault is motorsport. So for us, irrespective of the convergence, it's also a statement.
We are very much into competition, very much into sports, motorsport. Whether you're going to find that in your car or not, it doesn't matter. It's kind of like you want to your brands, the group brands as well as the Alpine brand to also means something to people. Not necessarily provide you a product, sometimes you just want to identify to a brand that say something to you.
TC: Are you enjoying building the brand of Alpine?
LR: Oh, I love it. I think it's the best job I've ever had. Not a day without being grateful to Luca de Meo, for the opportunity to be honest. It can be a beast, because essentially I work from Monday to Sunday nights, no weekend, no nothing. But I would not change for anything in the world. Never.
__TC: And has Luca DeMaio given you some goals in terms of car sales? By the end of 23? I want you to be selling this much, 24 that much?
LR: No, not necessarily car sales. He gave me a very high level, but at the same time, very precise objective, which is to make a successful brand. And by that we measure it mostly in like brand valuation, if you will. How much is the Alpine brand worth if it were independent, for instance, if you if you could assess the brand and by brand, I mean two things, right?
There's the value of the brand itself. Back to what I was saying, those iconic brands like Nike and Apple that you can even put on your balance sheet and there's the value of the company. So both of them. So basically said, I want you to grow that brand, as a brand and as a company. And I have clear objectives which I will not mention here, and we're trending towards that.
And it's the most exciting job because those objectives actually work by developing both Formula One and Motorsports in general, because we not just Formula One, obviously it's the central totem, like the most visible one and a great one, but the rest as well in motorsport is quite important. And the road car activities, I cannot get to the objectives. We've signed for Alpine by simply focusing on one or the other.
TC: Right. And are we going to see Alpine expand into new markets? North America?
LR: Yes, yes. We're basically in a three phase plan. The first phase is most over, which was basically maximizing the output of our road car, only road called the A110, while making the brand known for Formula One, using one to reinforce the other obviously and it's successful, we've tripled the the sales over two years. The value of the brand as well as has been multiplied by three.
So it's working out well. The next phase is going to be to expand or line up while also maximizing the potential of the brand in the European territory and a couple of key markets like Japan, which are current like a playground, if you will, that goes until 25 six, more or less. And then the last phase, which is the most exciting one, I mean, every single phase is exciting, but the last phase is going to be to further expand the line-up, to then conquer new markets. And North America is pretty much on our radar.
TC: Fantastic. Sounds great fun.
LR: Absolutely. A lot of a lot of responsibility and a lot of work, but a lot of fun. Yeah.
TC: Now let's talk drivers. There's a lot of focus on your line up in Formula One. Both Esteban and Pierre are winners, Both are French and both are from Normandy. Is nationality important to you?
LR: No, none at all. Which is the the big surprise everyone gets all the time. If Pierre had been from Bangladesh, I would have taken Pierre. Nevertheless, it's a nice opportunity. We can leverage the French team, even though, to be honest, I'm very mindful of the fact that we are a British team as well, like a British outfit.
Enstone is the centre of gravity of Formula One, at Renault, at Alpine. And it's not pure French, so it's a French brand with a British outfit, if you will. So we have those two cultures, two nationalities, and I'm proud of it. So it's not just French. It helps us in a way to convey a bit of the Alpine legacy, which is nice, because Alpine is a brand from Normandy. So that is pretty cool actually, because we want to keep the past, the heritage and and make it like active, you know, like projected into the future. So those two are a fantastic embodiment of that, right? Like it's a brand from Normandy, that is basically heralded, if you will, by those two young promising superstars. So that's cool. That works for us.
It helps us in France also to convey a bit of this French team and rally the crowd behind us because we're not exactly Ferrari. It's not a religion in France, Right. Like you can be from north or south of Italy. Everyone loves Ferrari in Italy. In France, we like to have our own little like conflict and disagreement. So at the very least, they don't have to choose. Now, the both of the French drivers are in our team, so we have the French team.
TC: But do you have the crowd behind you in France and do you have the media behind you?
LR: I don't know. We certainly don't have them against us for sure. I've noticed a change of of mood at the very beginning. Everyone was sceptical because it's true that Renault has been trying to get back on the podiums for a long, long, long, long time, unsuccessfully. And it's been a bit of a tiring factor for a lot of people. We don't believe in that anymore. I think they start to see the momentum because to get to fourth last year was a big progress and I'm assuming there is something happening now and we're getting more and more of the of the support of the car. I mean, the sales are through the roof and people are constantly telling us that they love the brand. So I guess something is happening. Yeah.
TC: Sure. Damon Hill told me a story the other day that he was doing a some driving thing in France and they were in lots of different kinds of cars. But the people driving the Alpines were the ones that got cheered on the side of the road.
LR: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. The funny thing is I drive my Alpine every day, obviously in Paris, I still get like thumbs up all the time everywhere, which is very funny because the car has been around for eight years now. It's not like it's brand new and people are like discovering it. This brand has a kind of an amount of sympathy it conveys. And we're happy with that. We want to keep that like this.
TC: What about Esteban Ocon, then? This is his fourth year with the team. How have you seen him evolve both as a driver and as a person in the time that you've known him?
LR: Well, there's no mystery about the fact that I have very quickly tried to make Esteban feel comfortable in the team, because Esteban was remarkable about this. This boy has never had an easy, linear path. Every single year almost he was told, that's it, that's over. That's the end of the road with us, and you need to find another gig next year, which is super difficult, especially in a career like that. You need a bit of a runway, right? You need to feel comfortable about the fact that you're going to drive for a while and you actually can make this job your job for real, not just a hobby like I think I was mentioning about myself earlier on. And it's never, ever been easy for him. Like, really.
And so irrespective of of that, I also knew that this boy, has been successful in all categories, has been racing against Max, Charles, everyone that is a top driver today and like he has beat them over time in the past. So I'm like he some potential. Let us put him in a more comfortable zone. not fully comfortable, because he needs to be on this toes all the time. That's important. But let us see what he has in store. If we give him the environment, it's like a bit of like peace of mind. And so that's why we decided to bet on him for three years and give him a bit of a of a runway also, because back then, to be honest, nobody wanted to come to our opinion.
Let's be clear. So it was as good a driver as we could get. And I've always said Esteban is a very least a very good second driver. Everyone interpreted that in different ways. But when I say it as like there's no one and two at Ferrari, but I'm pretty sure a lot of people think there's a two. There's no one and two at Mercedes, and that's hard to figure out who's the two there, to be honest. And I think Esteban would be one of those two, whichever person you would pick in both of those teams. So that's what I meant by that was like.
TC: When you gave him that runway, that comfort, did you see a change in?
LR: Yes, I did, Absolutely. Well, he started like driving more efficiently and putting things together for the long term, not trying to impress everyone at every race, which is a very different thing, because he was taking inconsiderate risks and he was like basically driving perhaps without knowing, with that fear that he had to potentially lose his race sit in that race. So basically it was different. And I told him now that the thing is you need to grow like grow up like in many ways and grow the team with yourself. That means you need to be more of a of a strategic driver and a leader, which is extremely different from just being a super fast cool boy. That's a different, different story.
I need you to exhibit the qualities that might make you one day a world champion, which is something different than just racing fast. All of the drivers on the grid are racing super fast. No doubt they could beat one another on one lap. No doubt. Like even the last on the grid could be the first on one lap, I'm pretty sure. And they would admit it.
But on a long term building a team, rallying the people around you, extracting the maximum performance out of your car, but not just to car out of the factory, out of the 1200 people supporting you. That's a different ballgame. And that's what we, I told him to do. I gave him those three years, in exchange of take the team higher up with you.
TC: And then when he won in Hungary, did that accelerate the change?
LR: Well, not really, because it happened earlier than what we we imagine. To be honest. It's not like we had planned to win that year. As a matter of fact, we didn't win last year. But it showed a lot of things. It exhibited a lot of strength and qualities both in Esteban and the team like because we basically were in the lead very early in the race and we had to keep that lead, which is super difficult, especially when you don't have like the fastest car, far from it, on the grid. So him, he showed a lot of resilience, race craft and the team as well, which was actually super encouraging.
TC: And we saw that again in Suzuka last year when he was battling Lewis Hamilton for P4 and kept him behind.
LR: That's right. He made a lot of progress. There used to be potentially a little bit more of a feisty driver. He's still feisty and I hope they keep that feistiness. I mean, people always ask me about the fact that drivers can fight with an another. It's normal. They would lose the sense of competition, otherwise it's only normal they do that. But now he does it with the conscience that he's serving a team and not himself.
TC: Do you have any concerns over Esteban's fitness? You know, he talks about the virus that he had over the winter, these coughing fits that he was getting.
LR: No, no, no, I don't. I think he lost two or three weeks of perhaps having fun and relaxing. But he was back in shape or sufficiently in shape for his physical preparation when he had to do it. And I think he's just fine. I'm not worried about that. So I guess it's no concern.
TC: Well, chatting to him in the Bahrain paddock. He seemed relaxed about it, but I think actually it's interesting you say having fun. I think he was a bit gutted that he lost.
LR: I think so, yeah. And that helps as well because it's important to have time for nothing, right. To just put your brain on pause mode or better yet, like put your brain aside, just forget about those things. I guess he got robbed of those two three weeks in December away and you can just fully relax, you don't have to worry about anything racing, but also physical preparation.
Next season, you just like, put your life into a kind of a parenthesis. You didn't have that, but that's okay. He's fully motivated and I expect him to to be, because he's still very young. So he's like moved on to the next season now. I think it's... we're under the bridge now.
TC: What about Pierre Gasly? What are your first impressions of him?
LR: Very motivated, incredibly motivated. I think he realizes that it's a great opportunity and to be honest, it is potentially a critical point in his career. I told them both at your age, given the fact that when you be done with your contract, we both be very close to 30. It would be very dangerous for you to be let go because you didn't exhibit the maturity and the behaviours that we expect from people want to aim higher. And I think Pierre exhibited that from the get go.
He's extremely mature. He's extremely conscious of the fact that the train might not stop again. Right. And he's on the train now and is very motivated. I mean, I don't know if you've seen him right at the end of his physical prep. It was just impressive. He was as wide as Esteban is tall, which is just I was like, Oh my God, did you pack so much muscle there? Pierre is extremely athletic. There's no secret about the fact that he could have been a professional football player rather than... He's amazing.
LR: Oh, yeah, he was actually hesistating between the two? And he decided he would have more chances in Formula One because there's less people.
TC: So what was Pierre's reaction when you said we were getting Zinedine Zidane as an ambassador?
LR: Oh, he was. It was thrilled. He loves champions and for good reason, because he was thrilled because he was looking forward to getting the insights from a former world champion himself. Like to basically manage pressure, manage performance on the mid, long term.
TC: Do you think there is a cross-pollination between what Zidane was going through as a professional footballer?
LR: Pretty sure. I'm pretty sure there is, yeah. In the lives of all those those like athletes, elite athletes, there's always doubts. There's always like ups and downs and you need to manage that. There's also how you manage your time, how you manage your leisure, how you manage your entourage, how you manage your career. An Zidane has done that individually and as a manager of talents, because as the head coach of Real Madrid, he had plenty of Zidanes. Oh, actually, not necessarily at this level, but like very worthy players.
So I think having someone like that is extremely precious and those are the things that actually Zidane won't even pass on to us then to him. He will pass directly to Pierre and maybe like to conversations of 5 minutes or 10 minutes. And that's largely enough because champions, they recognize each other, they speak the same language. They are very aware on to something special, like in to this like one percent, top one percent, or 0.01% of the performance which is great.
TC: You say Pierre is very motivated but what impresses you about what he's doing inside the car and how he's interacting with the team?
LR: Well, he has shown that he is ready to develop the team as well as himself, which is important for me, for Esteban, also for Pierre, because we're in the middle of the river if you were, right. And we left the bank, we want to get to the other bank and we need everyone's effort. Everyone's participation. We don't need selfish behaviours. We don't need a driver that would just like get into the car, drive fast and be like, this is it, I've done my job. Pierre arrived, was extremely motivated in trying to figure out who's who, who's working, like what's the working ways of every single one of the people he's going to work with? And that was from day one back in Abu Dhabi.
The tests, he really made a conscious effort of really getting to know every member of the team, working directly or indirectly with him. He wanted very early on to go and visit the people Enstone, which is normal because this is where he's going to spend like quite some time, like the simulator and so forth, but also went to Viry which is a bit of a, you know, the tour normally drivers don't go off there. He asked me to go to he said I want to go there and to meet the people. I want to see the the facilities, he is really, really involved and is showing there he is committed to the project and I think it's already a plus because he's a leader now. And that's what I expect is he is taking the whole team behind him. They are following him. And he has not raced with us yet, which is quite impressive and everyone is already quite happy with him. It seems like he's been with us since five years now, which is pretty impressive.
TC: Yeah, that's a compliment, isn't it? Now, you touched earlier on their relationship. They've known each other since they were in karting. That friendship has been on and off. Yeah, I think we can say how much time if you invested trying to get to the root of the problem. Do you think there's a problem?
LR: To be honest, I didn't spend one minute trying to figure this out because it's not my problem. It shouldn't be. It's something between two people and I don't think there is a problem, to be honest. Why I'm saying that is because those two guys knew each other since they're six. Why? Because they were from the same area. By area, I mean like small districts in France, not like larger districts, like very, very, very small district doing the same thing, go karting. So there's not like 25,000 people doing that in France, let alone in the same district. They had to know each other. They were six years old. You cannot force a friendship if there is not necessarily a strong basis for a friendship.
How many people do you still know? Do you still call friends that you knew when you were six? I don't know you. I only know like three of them. I always say that. And they live in an island. They got stuck there. My island, Corsica. If it was not for that, we might have been scattered and don't talk to each other anymore since then, because that's walks of life. I mean, there's so many people that have been in my life and disappeared, and same for everyone. I don't have that many friends that I know from way back then. I was six year old, first of all. So it's only natural that you lose those friendships and actually where they really friendships.
That was just comrades, right? Like you, they were like the fellow drivers that you knew, like me and you people when I was playing handball or doing that sport. I don't know them anymore. They were my friends sort of, but they're not anymore. And then the second thing is they were in a super competitive environment and back then, what were they dreaming of? Becoming the new Prost, becoming the new Alesi, becoming the new, perhaps even Panis.
There was only one of them, so they were not going to be like, Oh, I'm your friend, let's go play PlayStation and then I'm going to destroy you on track for real. That doesn't help forging a friendship. So I don't find it absolutely abnormal that they lost that friendship over that, because guess what? It was probably not a friendship, it was just not just like the colleagues in a way like we are. We're not all friends in our jobs, right? But we work with each other. So to me, it's just that. And I don't expect them to be friends. I don't need them to go on vacation. I don't think a lot of drivers go on vacation together all the time. I just need them to be adult and professional. That's it, the rest is there problem. It's their problem. If they want to go barbecue, play whatever, they can do it. If they don't not my problem, I'm not the father. They have one. I have a fatherly attention to things, but it's not me who's going to decide whether or not to have a relationship.
TC: And how is their relationship been so far? Are you impressed with how they are?
LR: I mean, everyone is expecting something. Right? And I think that's going to be a little bit of like riff raff, right? They're going to be like, which is normal. They the first thing teammates want to do in in any F1 outfit is to beat the other. Why? Because they have the same machinery. And that's the most direct comparison. You can always find an excuse If Lewis beat you in a Mercedes or Charles beats you in a Ferrari because they have a Mercedes or Ferrari or they're Lewis, whatever. Right. Whereas if the other guy in the same car beats you, most of the time, people are going to be like, He's better than you. So they're always going to have this kind of pressure.
But for now they are doing what they should do, which is working together as teammates, not showing any like kidish behaviour, childish behaviour, animosity. And I have to say, I feel like there's a bit of a Oh, that's cool to be back together and they say it often. It's kind of like nobody asked them to put that picture of the two of them when they were six year old that day Pierre signed the contract with us. It was really heart-warming to see that they, like those two, basically could rekindle a relationship, not a friendship necessarily, but a relationship that's nice. Just that.
TC: Could happen.
LR: Could happen for them.
TC: What is it like disciplining racing drivers? And I'm thinking back to Brazil.. You know, in the sprint race, when Fernando and Esteban touched, what was that like?
LR: It's a delicate thing because you don't want to discipline those guys in the sense because what makes them champions is their instinctive desire to fight, to turn into like animals on track. And it is what separates them from us and they could be the most amicable persons off track, but on track when the visor is like down, they just turn into like beasts. So you want to keep that. You don't want to curb that. And that's why I've always said let them race. I'm going to let them race all the time. And people were scared because two or three times during the year they had like some pretty close combats. But I told them, I said, I'll let you race as long as you behave like adults, I'll treat you like adults.
If you make the team worse off. If one of you is in the ditch and we don't finish. And we don't have as many points as we could have because the car has the potential, then that means you behave like kids. I'll treat you like kids. And I would basically ground one of you or the both of you and I will do it, I think, and sue my back.
You will. I will do it. And so I think they understood that because it's basically treating them like adults. I give them the keys, the responsibilities. I'm not issuing orders or Otmar for that matter, because Otmar is the boss in the team. But I'm reminding them of the responsibilities they have, the responsibilities to take the team higher and the responsibilities of 1200 people working for them in the factories in Enstone and Viry, as well as the 140,000 people of the Renault group working for them. Because again, who's paying for the bill. It's the rest of us.
TC: I don't want to linger on this, but it was actually a large part of drive to survive everything that happened last year with Oscar Piastri. You've had a few months to reflect on what happened there. Now, what did you and the team learn from all of that?
LR: Well, we learned a lot too, to be honest, and we'd be foolish not to learn from from that. We learned a couple of things. I would say there's no such thing as loyalty, especially when individual interests are at stake. It's difficult to combine both for people that are sometimes a bit too young to weigh the pros and cons of both. And then we also learned that we were insufficiently prepared on a couple of areas, especially in the way we structure our contracts with the academy drivers and the way we transfer that into the Formula One world, which I guess everyone was, because you heard Toto and and Christian, I believe, saying it was going to set the precedent. So we learned that we left too many doors open in our contract because no one thought those people would just go and leave using that open door.
It would only be normal to come back to the team that help you. Well, we're going to change that. We've changed that already. We've a bit more corporate and protective of our contracts now. It's a bit more stringent if you want to sign something with Alpine. It's less of a let's shake hands and we're happy to have you in the family.
It's you still in the family, but you're in the family with the contract. It's like your kids have a contract with the parents, it's a bit sad, but it's the way it is. You would never expect your kids to leave to the bedroom one night and never show up again. And you would certainly not put locks on contracts. We forced to do that a bit. I guess it goes with the evolution of also the industry. We've more stakes, more money involved, which potentially can make your head spin a bit every now and then. So we have to come to terms with it. We're getting more and more professional, which means we need to be more, more and more professional in every single aspect of the sport, including the way we contracting.
TC: I think it raises an interesting question about driver development program. Okay, you can tighten up the contracts, but do they actually work? Are drivers loyal by nature or are they so ferociously competitive that they will always be disloyal in the end if there's a better opportunity elsewhere?
LR: Look, I wouldn't call drivers disloyal, to be honest. They also have their own career to manage. And God knows it's a difficult one because there's really few of them and it's ferocious, as you said, and they don't have an easy one, right? If they have a bad year, they just get the boot and it's tough. So I think they also need to manage there own interest now. And there is probably ways to do it. I would have not necessarily prevented Oscar from leaving. Should he have come to us with something a bit more structured that says, Hey guys, I'm also having this offer. What do we do? Can we talk? You know, it just caught us by surprise. I guess it also caught Riccardo by surprise, which says a lot. Right? So that that might be a little bit candid and we don't want to be candid anymore. And so that's why we put that thing to contract. It's okay. It's over now. We learned the lessons for ourselves. The rest it's just one person. I actually wish him well, and that's about it.
TC: You wish him well? Is he welcome to Alpine down the road?
LR: I can't say.
TC: Or is that too much water under the bridge now?
LR: We'll see when we get there, right? But there's no need to to hold a grudge. It's like it's destroying you and destroying the things you want to do. So, that's gone. We're better off with Pierre now. So why would want anything else? I'm going to. I'm fine with that. If down the road the opportunity arises. I'm not saying no. I'm not saying yes. We'll see. We'll see where we get there.
TC: Can we talk about Otmar Szafnauer now? Yes. I loved the episode in Drive to Survive when he's allegedly driving to work on the first stage. When he says J'mappelle Otmar. How is this French coming on?
LR: I've no idea. He's never talking French to me. But I don't make any effort. I don't speak French to him either.
TC: How would you sum up the job that was done for you?
LR: Nothing short of like, critical because Otmar has being the quintessential glue between the teams and by the teams, I mean of course Enstone and Viry but also Enstone, Viry and the track, because the track team is a bit of a different thing, it's a bit of a different animal and there's a human side and dimension to it, bringing people together, creating an atmosphere.
There's also a technical dimension to it, the unit of time off track is maximum the week, minimum the hour right? In an hour, you need to thing turn things around. In a week you need to figure out what happened to you at the last Grand Prix. The unit of time at the factory is a month to the year because you develop things at a different pace.
You need to combine those two. And that's what it what Otmar is doing. And it looks easy from from higher up. But the job of Team Principal is a super difficult one because you have to reconcile a lot of different time horizons, skills and priorities and put them together towards performance. And that's what Otmar is doing.
TC: Was anyone else in the running for the job at the start of last year?
LR: Yes. Yes, there were a couple of people, but some of them were not available as simply as that. Otmar was pretty much top of the list because he's done something that we were really impressed with, which was the days of Force India, basically bring the seventh or eighth budget on the grid to the fourth position, which which speaks a lot about the things we want to create in the era of cost to be efficient and effective is pretty important.
TC: And were you impressed with how Otmar dealt with the scrutiny, with the Alonso-Piastri saga?
LR: Yes. Yes, yes. He put himself on the line under the line of fire. Did his best, did very well, and preserve our interest. And I think, you know, of course, the drive to survive is just one angle and perhaps sometimes a little bit of a twist on how things really happened, even though the reality still preserved. You know, it might be a bit of like narrative shortcuts.
I would say. But at the end of the day, what happened is also that Otmar was behaving in a very honest, transparent manner, defending our interest with a lot of like principles. And I don't think he's ashamed and we are ashamed of anything. And it shows I think in the episodes. At the end of the day, we don't look like fools or business people and that's a lot of credit goes to Otmar for that.
TC: Technically you've got a, I think the Dream double act. Pat Fry, who's been at the sharp end of Formula One for, what, 35 years? Matt Harman, previously from Mercedes. Their job is to make the car go faster. Do you think they're up there with the best technical double acts in the history of the sport or industry?
LR: In the history, I wouldn't say because we haven't won the world championship to basically claim that, but it's certainly a very, very strong pair for sure. I mean, Pat Fry is exceptional, he has a depth of knowledge that's tremendous. He has a super sharp eye. He's been there, done that. It's incredible to have him and Matt Harmon has seen what good looked like in the top teams, the recent ones like Mercedes, and he's a power unit engineer, which also was extremely important for me because being myself a modest engineer, I know there is a vastly different job from being a designer or an aerodynamics engineer. And the two of them basically, first of all, complement each other and create a fantastic like atmosphere, or even more than that context environment for both Enstone and Viry, because basically Matt Harman can speak to Viry and integrate Viry into the development of the car. Not to say that Pat Fry couldn't do it. You know, even engineers are weird animals. So you like to speak to your own tribe and Matt Harman is very much a you issue like tribe anymore. So that helps us a lot. And it shows I mean, we've done a much better engine last year. That's great to Viry but Matt was obviously overseeing that from from a distance as the grand architect of the car and together with Matt, they created the best combo which we didn't have before. We decided that when we elected Matt as the team technical director, we decided that we will call the car system, which is normal for engineers and everything is a subsystem, the power unit being one as as critical as the power unit is as a subsystem, it's a subsystem and it has to be integrated in the system with the certain amount of constraints. And Matt was the kind of link between the two that makes Viry feel like, okay, we're going to optimize the subsystem, but still using the car system from here and that's how you become a real works team. Before we would just like a concatenation of two factories. Now we've finally come back to a works team structure.
TC: That's really interesting. And do you think the P U is where you want it to be performance wise?
LR: Well, it's definitely better than where we was, to be honest with you. I like to say that you don't win a championship only because of PU, but you certainly lose it. And the deficit of performance that the Pu was generating in the prior years was making it impossible for us to imagine anything better than fifth. Like we were basically losing a good three to five-tenths a lap because of the PU. only because the integration of the PU was not perfect and not because the Pu was not good enough of itself, but it was just not optimized integration wise. I mean, Viry are pretty much capable of extracting as much like as much horsepower as they want from the PU but it was not like a seamless job in terms of integrating the two. The new one is definitely much closer to the to the competition. I think we're like in the ballpark of a tenth with the best. So that's just fine enough because let's remember we have a second to catch up with Red Bull or something like that.
TC: So I think the whole field does it.
LR: Yeah, that's true. That's true. But at the moment I'm only concerned about myself and our team. And so basically it's much better to think that's okay, If we get to a tenth, then we'd be in a good place. The rest is down to the car.
TC: How do you feel about a second supply of the power unit? How integral is that?
LR: No, it's not integral. It's nice to have, but it's not a must have. Only because we've been there in the past and I've listened to the people that have lived that experience. And it's a toll, it's a tax on the teams, because whenever you have a problem, whenever everything goes well, it's a smooth sail. Whenever you have a problem, suddenly it's it's mayhem. It's chaos. You have you have you have to have your own team focusing on the customer because they paying. And so you need to fix their problems. And if you're a bit different in terms of definition, technical definition, you just basically have to split yourself in two, which makes it very hard to support both teams, unless you're fully structured for that. But it's very hard. And so for us it was more important to basically collect ourselves, turn ourselves around, restructure ourselves, serve ourselves first, which we are finally doing now. And you saw it at the test. We just do where we have to do, deal with our own problems. We finally getting to a place where we can we we can handle ourself properly and start looking at other teams, potentially customer teams. But it is not a must have. It's nice to us because of course if you go to track like Bahrain and you have three times more the number of engines running around like Mercedes, for instance, you're going to have three times more data.
LR: But you also have three times more problems again. So you'll have to decide, careful what you wish for, right? So you have to decide for us. We at that stage now, we start considering that we could do it, but do we need it? Not necessarily.
TC: Laurent, it's been fantastic to talk to you. Thank you for your time. You've had the most extraordinary career so far and there's still so much of it ahead of you, you know, motorsport, then business, then back to to motorsport, I suppose we can call it now. But obviously the road side as well. Boston Consulting Group, Google, when you combine all of that, just how different is Formula One to everything else you've done outside of it?
LR: Well, it's immensely different because it's a world of its own. It's difficult to compare it to anything else. But in talking with would be investors, friends in other sports, I also know that it's the same for them. What strikes me is that it's a it's a world of exceptional individuals doing exceptional things. And this is where I think you learn from organizations. Similarly positioned like Google or BCG, because it's really like exceptional individuals doing exceptional things in a different field. Right? Consulting. It was mostly like thinking about extremely hard problems for corporations doing business globally. At Google, it was thinking about customer and delivering exceptional products for an organization that's used to catering to everyone's problems every day. So I'm drawing from that and I find it natural to use it in this exceptional world of Formula One. It's different, but we use a lot of the same tricks, I would say.
TC: And because of where you've worked, you've spent a lot of time in North America. Yes. Do you think F1 has finally cracked that market now three races over there this year?
LR: I pretty much think so, Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And it was a it was a high time. It is nice to see that, to be honest, because it's going to I mean, obviously North America has brought a lot to the sport in a way, right? Thanks to Netflix, there's no doubt that thanks to Liberty of course, even more important, because they've changed the way we did the sport in a way and they know how to put on a show back there in the U.S. You have to give it to them. And at the end of the day, our industry is also a show. It's entertainment. Sports is a show. Right. We're back to the circus in the old days, Pan-Am and seconds and ride like bread and Circus. That's what we're doing. So it's good to have them because they help us professionalize the sport, make sure that everyone is going to be sustainable from the top team to the last one on the grid, which is quite important because that makes the sport more like a viable and also more enjoyable for everyone because it really is a show. So I love the idea that North America loves Formula One now and Formula One loves America, I guess. Yeah.
TC: And does Formula One need another American team? And I'm obviously thinking about Andretti really?
LR: I don't know about that, to be honest. I think Andretti is a big name in motorsports so it wouldn't hurt? At the same time, I'm very aware of the fact that there's no obligation for the circus to represent the whole because there's only ten teams, so it will always be unfair to some places. It would make sense for them to basically try and get this license. But again, at the end of the day, it has to be something that brings value to the whole circus, and that's for them to demonstrate it to the rest of the teams. I'm not going to position myself on this one.
TC: Okay. Well, look, do position yourself on the podium this year.
LR: Very much.
TC: Great to have you on the show. Thank you so much.
LR: Thank you so much for having me.