One of the ironies of Fernando Alonso’s blunt rejection of Alpine for Aston Martin was that the man who was to let the world know Alpine’s position on this had so recently moved in the opposite direction. And not in the friendliest of circumstances.
Alpine Formula 1 team principal Otmar Szafnauer spent just over 12 seasons at what is now Aston Martin through its Force India, Racing Point and then Aston forms.
It ended when it became clear to Szafnauer after the arrival of former McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh as group CEO that “the management structure was going to be such that I didn’t have the influence that I thought I should have”.
This was perhaps the most diplomatic of Szafnauer’s descriptions of the situation. A more direct version was, “I was told, ‘Yeah, you were able to lead the team, but you’re not leading it anymore’.”
Considering all that Szafnauer had done to guide the team through the dark days around the transition from the Vijay Mallya era to the Lawrence Stroll era, and what a respectable underdog podium finisher he had become over the years. 2010 under his co-management after the largely embarrassing grind of his later Jordan years and the short Midland/Spyker era, you could forgive him for being a little bitter.
And when asked following Alonso’s decision what he thought of that decision and whether Alonso was leaving for ‘a better team’ you could have forgiven Szafnauer for just holding up a copy of the league standings. F1 constructors. now show Alpine leading the best of the remaining crowd in fourth with 99 points and Aston Martin in a dismal ninth with 20 points, still only limping slowly to AlphaTauri just ahead, even though AlphaTauri scored a point for the last times in early June.
Instead, he provided a carefully balanced argument and evidence.
“I know both teams well,” Szafnauer began, “I think because I spent 12 years in the other team, I know them better than I know all the individuals here at the moment.
“And I know that since I left in December, they’ve hired other people, some of whom I helped recruit, including Dan Fellows [ex-Red Bull] and Eric Blandin from Mercedes.
“So I know what they’re trying to do and I know the people who are there and I know this team here.
“And both teams have great potential, but as we sit here today, this team is performing at a much higher level.
“It’s hard to predict the future, but in the near future this team will continue to perform at this level, if not better.
“We have plans in place here to improve, we have an internal program called Mountaineer and it’s for other reasons, but it’s to hire an additional 75 people in strategic areas that will help improve the capabilities of this crew.
“And with the 75 people, there are also tools that we are now improving, new simulation tools, a new simulator, increased manufacturing capacity, upgrades to our wind tunnel, all with the aim of being able to win 100 races.
“These things are still happening here and they are happening fast, we are already at a level of 850 people here.
“So I’m confident that we can outperform the team that Fernando is going to join during the time he’s there.”
A strong argument. But the thing is, predicting the relative shape of Aston Martin and Alpine between 2023 and 2025 is mostly about deciphering which big promises of investment and expansion are most grounded in reality, and – perhaps more importantly again – who will be best able to do all this. new resources work together smoothly, then perform competently on track.
Both teams’ highs came when they were nimble and brilliantly efficient pure racing teams, outshining rivals they probably shouldn’t have outshined, but were able to think ahead and get wrong. For what is now Alpine, this happened in its Benetton/Michael Schumacher championship years in the mid-1990s and its Renault/Alonso championship years in the mid-2000s. Aston Martin’s equivalent peak was much more bottom – Jordan’s unlikely 1999 title tilt (pictured above) – but looked similar about it.
They have both hit lows where they almost collapsed, and are now rebuilding and expanding with gigantic ambition, but not yet much to show – particularly Aston Martin, although Alpine has no not have to go through the same full factory replacement process and it has a three-year head start on Aston Martin in its journey from financial nadir to rebirth under different ownership.
Both are at the start of a new era in new guises and with different personalities at the top. Right now, we can only rely on hunches and personal judgment when considering whether one or both will waste all that effort on Toyota-style underperformance, or might mimic the trajectory that the Brackley team took over when Mercedes invested resources.
Perhaps the only certainty is that when you’re on the kind of path that Alpine and Aston Martin are both now, you really could have a very experienced two-time F1 champion in your car with a fierce drive, a spirit supreme race and apparent invincibility. regarding the potential effects of age on abilities.
Szafnauer may be right that Alpine can outperform Aston Martin next year and beyond if they have comparable driver lineups. What he urgently needs to do now is make sure Alpine finds a driver who can match the degree of boost the Alonso factor will give Aston Martin.
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