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Source: Racer Magazine

Why Renault perseveres with the Alpine F1 project

by Chris Medland | May 15th, 2024

The sixth round of this season in Miami finally saw Alpine pick up its first point of the year courtesy of Esteban Ocon's 10th place. Rewind to the same stage a year ago and Monaco - the sixth round of 2023 - saw Ocon standing on the podium and teammate Pierre Gasly in seventh for the team's third double-points finish.

A year earlier, and it was a second double-points score of the year being achieved in race six, early in a year when Alpine would finish fourth overall. And prior to that - the first season under the Alpine name - a top-six in Baku continued a solid start to a season that would yield a victory.

Alpine scored comfortably more than 100 points in each of those previous years, and if it were a 24-race season each time, the team was tracking to exceed three figures by this stage of the year. But on current pace, Alpine will score four points in 2024.

Explaining the surprising drop-off in terms of results to RACER, Alpine team principal Bruno Famin has a clear idea of the cause.

"I think we have not improved fast enough," he admits.

"Since two, three or four years ago, there is a lot of attraction to Formula 1. Formula 1 is developing a lot, bringing more money to the teams, new investors - as for us - and there are no more small teams anymore. Everybody has a very interesting road map to improve the team, to improve the performance and to improve the results. That means the fight is tougher and tougher.

"We have improved the car, we have improved the team, but not fast enough. Others have done a better job and now we need to change the mindset, we need to change our approach, and this is what we have started to do over the last months with restructuring the technical department in Enstone.

"We had very good news recently with David Sanchez's arrival, which is a bit like the cherry on the cake because to be frank and transparent it wasn't planned! Just a few weeks ago nobody knew he would be available, but he will be a very good and very high-level addition to our plan to make the team work better and to improve faster now than the others.

"That's the short- and medium-term plan in order to recover our place, first in the midfield and after - in the mid-term - to fight for podiums, hopefully."

Famin says Alpine’s current plight is straightforward: The team is not improving fast enough. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Time is something it has never felt like Alpine has had on its side. The Renault-owned team was formerly led by Otmar Szafnauer, who spoke of a 100-race plan to be a contender at the front of the grid. Those races were far from exhausted when Szafnauer left last summer, citing expectations of quicker gains from the team's owners.

Famin took over as interim team principal at that stage and now says he will remain in the role unless told otherwise. In promoting Julian Rouse to the role of sporting director in place of respected veteran Alan Permane, there were signs of progress in the latter half of 2023, but then the big step backwards this year.

And yet, rumors of Renault being interest in selling the team have been firmly refuted, with Famin insisting there is still a clear value to the wider company given its vision for the brad.

"Alpine is not doing Formula 1 just for doing Formula 1, it's because we have a much bigger picture which is developing the brand globally,” he says. “Alpine is an exciting, sporting brand, quite well-known in France but not much outside of France.

"We have huge expectations for developing that brand. With a new range and new models coming soon - we are going to present the first one of the new range in Le Mans on 13 June, the A290 - and we need to develop the brand awareness around the world.

"As it's a sporting brand, the choice has been made, the strategy is to develop the brand awareness thanks to motorsport, and what is the formula that is globally known everywhere in the world? It's Formula 1. And that's why we are in Formula 1, to develop the brand awareness."

As beneficial as it would be for the brand's image to be winning races, and as painful as it has been to be bottom of the standings until Miami, Famin says simply being part of the sport still brings a significant return.

"It's part of the project,” he says. “There are 10 teams in Formula 1, everybody wants to win, like in all competitions there is only one winner. This is what's making the story very exciting, the project itself.

"Of course, we have ambitions from a sporting point of view, we want to fight ahead. We know that for the time being we are not where we wanted to be and we have a lot to do for developing the team, for developing the project.

Famin says Alpine’s racing operations – which also include a Hypercar program in the FIA WEC (above) – are aimed at expanding the boutique French brand’s footprint on the world stage. Motorsport Images

"I see a lot of room for improvement everywhere in the team, and the project is really fascinating. It's true that we have the sporting side, but we have also everything around the sporting side with the communication, marketing, and we have our new investors that came onboard last year with very well-known sporting names from everywhere in the world.

"The project for developing the brand awareness, of course, is based on the sporting activities, but we can build everything around that. I think even if we are not where we want to be, we are developing the project in quite a good way."

Miami's point signaled a clear step forward in terms of competitiveness compared to the opening rounds, and was partly driven by upgrades and weight-saving work. But Famin isn't letting the early signs that Alpine is on the right path be celebrated too much, given where he expects the team to be capable of reaching this year.

"I think we still have a long way to go,” he says. “A long way to go. I'm not happy with the start of the season of course, but I'm very happy with the reaction of the team because we have been able to bring upgrades earlier than what was planned.

"We had a new floor on one of the cars in Shanghai when we were supposed to only have the two new floors in Miami. In Miami the car was at the weight limit of the first time, earlier than planned, but to be frank they are small things. They are small improvements and we need to get more.

"Of course I'm very happy that we have been able to go faster than what was planned; now we need to plan more and to bring more to recover the position we expect."

One further motivating factor for both the team and its ownership group is the potential reset that is rapidly approaching on the horizon. In 18 months' time, the final races with the current generation of car will be taking place, and new regulations on both a technical and power unit front offer a chance for a complete shake-up of the order.

Time might not have been on Alpine's side previously, but as it reorganizes its technical department the 2026 changes become an opportunity worth waiting for.

"I think it's really what we have in mind," Famin admits. "2026 will be a major milestone. We all know that major changes in the regulations are normally a massive opportunity to change the ranking, and it's really the target to get the team as prepared as possible to develop good cars from the 2026 regulations, for sure. This is why we're doing what we're doing now in terms of restructuring.

"We have incredible, amazing projects at Alpine, and nothing is easy. But it wouldn't be exciting if it were easy."


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