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The 2023 Formula 1 season has been turbulent for Alpine, both on and off the track. While Esteban Ocon’s podium in Monaco is undoubtedly the season’s highlight, it has mostly been a disappointing affair for the Enstone squad.
Ups and downs, no direction
Having finished last season in fourth position in the constructors’ championship, the hope and expectation for Alpine was to take another step forward and close the gap to those ahead. But it has all come crashing down since.
Changes off the track
The scene for its tumultuous season was set last summer. Then, the Alpine executives were insistent on only giving Fernando Alonso a one-year extension, with the Spaniard demanding more. As a result, he left for Aston Martin. Alpine reacted by publicly announcing its academy driver, Oscar Piastri, as its new driver.
Little did they know that the young hotshot had already signed for McLaren, so that plan was off the table. The French outfit turned to Pierre Gasly to join Ocon for an all-French line-up. This raised question marks, as the pair have had a bad relationship in the past, although their partnership so far has been uneventful.
But there was more to come during this season. The leader of the F1 project, Laurent Rossi, was dismissed in late July. Just a week later, Otmar Szafnauer, Alan Permane and Pat Fry, the team principal, sporting director and technical director respectively, were let go as well. Rossi and Szafnauer had notoriously come to a head in May, when the former publicly expressed his disappointment with the performance of the team.
Underperforming on track
While all the changes are taking place, the performance of the team has not been what we expected. A podium for Esteban Ocon in Monaco and another for Pierre Gasly in the Sprint at Belgium, stand as two of the very few positive moments for Alpine in 2023.
The squad has failed to score any points in four of the twelve races for far and has scored with both drivers on just three Grands Prix. Remarkably, there have been two occasions where Ocon and Gasly have collided. In Australia, it was during a chaotic late-race restart, as Gasly leave little space to his teammate, which resulted in a heavy crash for both. In Hungary, they were both innocent bystanders in a first-corner crash initiated by Zhou Guanyu.
What can be a positive sign for Alpine is the improvement of the car’s reliability, which was considered an Achilles heel in the past seasons. Excluding a mechanical failure for Ocon in the season opener at Bahrain and another in Silverstone, there have been no other problems in that facet for both during races and qualifying sessions. The engine is still lacking a bit of power though, compared to others.
Teammate battle: An old rivalry rekindled
As mentioned earlier, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly have not had the best relationship in the past few years, in a rivalry stemming from their karting days. Their performance was expected to be close this season, and indeed that is the case.
Ocon is leading his teammate 35 to 22 in the drivers’ standings, where the two drivers are in tenth and twelfth. His lead comes in part thanks to his podium finish in Monaco, as well as four consecutive strong performances in that part of the season. Gasly has arguably been the unluckier of the pair, as he has lost out on points despite good performances.
That was the case more notably in Canada, when he started from the back after getting blocked in qualifying, in Silverstone when a good performance was not converted to points because of bad timing with the safety car, as well as Spa-Francorchamps thanks to a slow pitstop. His best result so far, excluding the Sprint podium at Belgium, is a seventh position finish he achieved at Monaco.
Their head-to-head stats are more balanced and showcase how tight the battle is. Ocon has beaten his teammate five times in the eight Grands Prix they have both finished, while their qualifying battle is tied at six apiece.
Lots to sort out for a more stable future
For the current season, there are no real goals for Alpine. The emergence of Aston Martin and the recent big step in performance from McLaren means that Alpine is sixth in the constructors’ championship, two places down from last year.
Little to chase in 2023
Despite leading McLaren with a gap of 27 points after the Canadian Grand Prix, a 73-point swing over just four races means that Alpine now trail them by 46. And given the relative form of the two teams, it is very much unlikely that a battle between them is on the cards.
Equally, Alpine are not going to be challenged by any teams behind, since Williams and Haas sit 46 points behind them. What the French outfit hopes to do is gain consistency and some good results to build momentum towards 2024. Additionally, the lack of any battles in the constructors’ championship means that Alpine can focus resources towards the 2024 car and hope to make a jump at the start of next season.
The big decision to be made for Alpine is in regard to the team principal spot. With Otmar Szafnauer out, the position has been taken by the head of the engine department, Bruno Famin. This is considered more of a short-term decision and what happens beyond the end of this season remains to be seen.
Rumours point towards the former team principal of Ferrari, Mattia Binotto, to fill the spot. The Italian, who came up through Ferrari’s engine department before becoming its chief technical officer and getting promoted to the team principal role, resigned from his spot at the end of last season.
More than that, a proper restructuring and stability is needed for the team to succeed, as well as funding from its parent company, Renault. The French manufacturer has historically been reluctant to provide significant funding, but it is considered essential nowadays. At least things seem stable on the driver front, with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly both on long-term contracts.
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