A few years down the line people may glance at the historical standings in the Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship and conclude that the BWT Alpine F1 Team made progress in 2022 by securing fourth place – a slot higher than in 2021.
So much so that the French team‘s CEO Laurent Rossi seemed to think this was all progress but I’m not so sure.
Statistically, this would be an accurate assertion. However, like many things about the team, it flattered to deceive. In 2021 they actually won a Grand Prix and got on the podium at another. This year the closest they came to silverware was fourth.
More bomb and less boom
The Alpine A552 wasn’t a bad car, well at least the chassis wasn’t. It was slippery in a straight line and often run with low downforce wing settings, enhancing this attribute further. However, despite having good mechanical traction, it was not able to generate Ferrari, Red Bull, or even Mercedes levels of floor aero grip.
Its biggest weak point though was its Power Unit (PU) a bomb, but not in a good way. Frequently unreliable, it precipitated a whole host of DNF’s throughout the season. While avoidance may not have pushed them higher than their final finishing position in the championship, it would certainly have enabled them to definitively beat McLaren. Instead, they barely scraped ahead.
Men Overboard at Alpine
This situation undoubtedly paved the way for the exit of Fernando Alonso. Jumping ship to Aston Martin, a team that finished three slots lower than Alpine in the 2022 standings, strongly suggested there were issues at Alpine other than just mechanical!
The 41-year-old frequently raised the question why his car would tomber-en-panne and not his teammate’s. To be fair, it’s not the first time Alonso’s upped and offed from a team because he felt he was being disadvantaged. A similar situation occurred at McLaren when he was partnered by the then “noob” Lewis Hamilton.
However, it was self-evident that the Spaniard seemed to suffer far more from mechanical mal-chance than his French counterpart, Esteban Ocon. This inexorably led to malcontent between two drivers who had been happy to work together in 2021.
Bump and Grind
Unfortunately, Ocon has always taken the beating of one’s teammate a few steps further than what is healthy for a F1 team, especially in these days of budget caps. This often resulted in some unnecessary contact and delaying tactics that did not help Alpine’s cause.
I assume the increased competitiveness on his part was due to a resurrected Fernando who in his second season since his return to F1 was now really starting to hit his stride.
Ocon may have won their 2022 duel in points terms, but again the water of reality is muddied by the number of DNF’s that befell the wily Spaniard. In pure racing terms, Alonso had the edge over the French youngish gun.
Smells like Ferrari
The announcement of Alonso’s defection then revealed another crack in the operation – focus on detail or lack thereof. Alpine trumpeted ‘pas de problème’ over his departure and ushered in stage left, Oscar Piastri.
As we all know too well, Piastri in turn replied with a resounding ‘non’. Apparently, someone had not inked the contract and whilst Alpine thought they were playing clever, Mark Webber, Piastri’s manager, was playing “cleverer”. With Alpine dragging their feet, he did what a good manager should do and sold him to McLaren.
This left Alpine with no driver but lots of oeuf on their face. Sometimes incompetence can pay off though and I can’t help but feel they (Alpine) dodged a bullet here in losing Piastri. Having done so they then proceeded to put their own gun to their head and squeeze the trigger.
All good in the Alpine ’hood for 2023?
On paper, the driver partnering of Pierre Gasly and Ocon is a strong one but with one flaw. They’re both French, and to make it even better, in an all-French team. This can only lead to complications over and above those normally associated with trying to win a F1 World Championship. I mean how do you decide which driver to favor?
Whatever gloss of comfort Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi seems to have put on his season’s finishing position, the uncomfortable reality is that they were more than 300 points adrift from the two slots above them! If another mid-table finish is Rossi’s ambition then all well and good.
However, if he wants to reach the summit, the journey is a long hard slog and… they are already lagging behind the Leaders. Bon chance!