Alpine F1 team facing more upheaval a year on from Piastri saga

Picture: Simon Wohlfahrt / Reuters.

Picture: Simon Wohlfahrt / Reuters.

Published Aug 2, 2023


A year on from the summer shock of Fernando Alonso announcing his departure and Oscar Piastri ruling out replacing him, Renault-owned Alpine go into Formula One's August break in a state of upheaval again.

In the space of two weeks, an entire top tier has left the Enstone factory - chief executive Laurent Rossi, team principal Otmar Szafnauer, sporting director Alan Permane and chief technical officer Pat Fry.

On track the team has slumped from fourth last season to a distant sixth and suffered more retirements than any team.

Interim principal Bruno Famin said the changes were made "in order to go faster in reaching the level of performance we are aiming for".

Szafnauer, who lasted only 18 months in the job, hinted at corporate impatience in saying his exit stemmed from disagreement over how quickly the team could become regular winners.

The departure of Permane, after 34 years of service at the Enstone factory, came as a particular shock inside the tightly-knit paddock.

It is no coincidence that dominant Red Bull has the longest-serving boss in the paddock while Toto Wolff, who led Mercedes to a record eight constructors' titles in a row, is second on the list.

"To win in Formula One you've got to have the right culture and that has to come from the top down," Red Bull principal Christian Horner told reporters.

It takes time for changes to take effect, with the culture at Enstone forged by the success of title-winning predecessors Renault, with Alonso, and Benetton with Michael Schumacher under the leadership of Flavio Briatore.

Briatore left in 2009 after one of the sport's biggest scandals involving a deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix and the team went through tough times as Lotus before Renault returned in 2016 and then rebranded as Alpine.

Former boss Cyril Abiteboul was replaced by Rossi in 2021, when the team came up with a 100-race plan to return to the top that has also come under fire this week.

"Why not 120, why not 80? I don't understand it," Abiteboul told France Info this week.

"When you start putting forward a plan like that, you're sure to get it wrong because you don't know what others are doing in Formula One."

Four-times world champion Alain Prost, a special advisor until last year, was even more scathing in an interview with L'Equipe in which he spoke of incompetence and corporate interference.

"I love this team and seeing it in this state today saddens and distresses me," he said.

The Piastri saga was the talk of Formula One last August, with the Australian issuing a statement on social media that went viral after Alpine announced he would be racing for them.

"I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year," he said.

"This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year."