Why all eyes are on Alpine in 2022 after their management shake-up
Alpine put on quite the show on Monday night, just two days before pre-season running for the 2022 F1 campaign begins, with a glittering unveil in France’s capital Paris to launch the A522.
A lot is riding on this machine, which is built to F1’s new technical regulations and provides the foundation on which the French manufacturer hopes to build a team that within 100 races is regularly challenging for race wins – and in an ideal world fighting for the World Championship.
It feels like a new era for one of F1’s longest-serving teams. After rebranding as Alpine last year, the former Renault operation used 2021 as a transitional year, where CEO Laurent Rossi threw himself into the day-to-day running of the team so he could analyse the operation before putting his stamp on the project with a string of changes. Fernando Alonso used it as a season to shake off the rust after two years away, while Esteban Ocon continued his impressive progression, peaking with his first Grand Prix win in Hungary.
The shackles of a car that had hit a development cul de sac have been released, courtesy of the new regulations that have allowed Alpine to start from a clean sheet of paper. Get it right and a leap up the midfield – and in the process make a strong start to their 100-race target. Get it wrong, or start on the backfoot, and it’s hoped the new structure put in place, across the chassis base in Enstone and engine office in Viry, will provide the parameters to claw their way back in an era that will see very aggressive development from race to race.
It’s no wonder there’s a buzz about the place.
“It’s a very exciting time because we've been waiting for this new era,” said Rossi when we chatted ahead of Barcelona running. “The new cars symbolise the fact that the pack is going to be reshuffled. We're going to be dealt a new hand and this car will be the one bringing us a new hope. Obviously the new regulations will mean constant progress so what you see in this car is very different from what you will see race after race.”
Rossi took a hands-on approach to running the team when he took over as CEO, working with then Executive Director Marcin Budkowski and Racing Director Davide Brivio. But after simplifying the top of the pyramid, with Budkowski leaving, Brivio moving away from F1 to focus on the Academy and Otmar Szafnauer coming in to run the show as Team Principal, Rossi can step back a bit and focus on his wider role, honing the strategy for the Alpine brand.
Rossi enjoys a strong relationship with Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo, with the latter supporting the former’s medium to long-term vision. It’s why Rossi has been given time first to assess the team and then to hit the first modest target. Such an approach respects the challenge Formula 1 presents. Getting to the top takes time. Mercedes took four years before they went on their incredible run of World Championship success. It took McLaren the same amount of time to bounce back from a miserable 2015 campaign, when they ended up ninth, to head the midfield.
“We have a clear plan set by Luca de Meo,” said Rossi. “We know where we want to be in four seasons from now at the end of the [current engine regulations era]. It’s a 100 Grand Prix journey where the most important thing is to make progress race after race and the new structure will help us to carry on the promising operational progress we saw last year on the track and build that on a more comprehensive scope across all sides, to make sure that this 100 Grand Prix journey is successful and goes up and up and up and up.”
He added: “The target is clear. We want to fight, we want to contend for wins and if possible… to be a contender for the title. For sure, we entered the pitch with the clear desire to win.”
Leading that charge is a blend of a youth and experience in Ocon and Alonso. Ocon is with the team until the end of 2024, and while Alonso’s deal is up at the end of the year, if the car is quick and they are showing potential, the Spaniard will almost certainly have the hunger to fight on and reap the rewards of his labour.
“We secured Esteban for three years to make sure that we have that stability,” said Rossi. “With Fernando, it was a bit of a different situation because he was coming back from retirement, so we gave ourselves the time to check if he was operating at the right level. He is operating at super-high level, arguably the highest level you can imagine. Honestly, I think he’s a fantastic driver so, so far so good.
“We have a strong line-up that has been involved last year in the development of this year’s car but has also brought their expertise in improving operations to the way you manage the Grand Prix, the way you manage qualifying, the way you manage the race. Provided we give them a fast car, these two might be the very efficient jewel that you will all wish for.”