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otmar szafnauer alpine f1 team

Alpine F1 boss Szafnauer the next head to roll?

otmar szafnauer alpine f1 team

With Alpine in the state they are in, a mere eight points in four races, team boss Otmar Szafnauer could be the next senior Formula 1 figure to lose his job this season

The French team with a revolving door for top managers/advisors, in recent years, is not shy to send people packing; remember Alain Prost, Cyril Abiteboul, Marcin Bukowski et al?

Under Szafnauer’s first season in charge, Alpine impressed to finish the 2022 F1 season fourth in the F1 Constructors’ Standings, Best of the Rest but they were 342 adrift of third-placed Mercedes, a gap Szafnauer intended to narrow this campaign.

But instead, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon have had a woeful time in the wake of a preseason in which Alpine talked up their chances, Szafanuer stating at the launch of the A523: “A good year for us is being a lot closer to third. There was a big gap between fourth and third last year, so being significantly closer to the top three and perhaps a little bit further away from fifth.”

Ahead of Round 5, in Miami this weekend, in Szafnauer’s homeland USA, Alpine stats make for grim reading, as they lie sixth in the 2023 F1 standings, on eight points scored in the opening two rounds, the next two drew blanks with Baku a horror show of a performance by the team. Granted last year they did start the season slowly too, but this time it appears more dire amid a very compact midfield, where half a second is the difference between 20th and the top ten.

Szafnauer’s fourth-place target is now a dream unless they find ‘le magique switch‘ in the USA and keep it switched on all year, however, chances of that happening are slim with engines firing up for FP1 this Friday, but anything less than a rebound by Alpine and some handy points in Miami will only add weight to headline question.

Operational problems plague Alpine every race weekend

This is what Szafanuer said after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix debacle: “It’s been a bitterly disappointing weekend in Baku and we must not repeat this type of performance again. We very much started on the backfoot on Friday and since then we were not able to make any kind of recovery in any of the sessions.

“We were quite far off on car set-up on Friday during practice and with such limited running – with some reliability issues on both cars – we left ourselves with a mountain to climb for the remainder of the weekend. We must limit these problems going forward and begin all weekends on the front-foot to make sure we give ourselves the best possible chance to score points.”

Honest stuff from Szafnauer, a self-damning Sword of Damocles with this statement: “We must not repeat this type of performance again.” The “We” of course is him, where the buck stops, surely by now some serious questions have been asked within the corridors of Enstone and Viry-Châtillon. Among them very likely: is Otmar really the man for the job?

Who is Otmar Szafnauer?

Szafnauer’s surprise appointment as Alpine TP came after he was key to saving Force India from demise, overseeing the Racing Point emergence and initial establishment of Aston Martin as Lawrence Stroll’s dream that did not include Otmar. But Alpine’s grande patron Laurent Rossi thought it wise to hire him despite a journeyman career in the sport.

What are his accomplishments? He was part of Honda’s failed team that became the title-winning Brawn GP team in 2009, but Szafnauer bailed in 2008 and lost out on being part of what now is Mercedes, of course, thanks to Ross and the rest of the Honda folks who remained to join forces with the German auto giant.

Instead, in 2009 Szafnauer joined Force India, where he did a great job keeping the team competitive with little budget, running Vijay Mallya’s vanity project until the Indian businessman ran out of money to pilfer. To save his career and those around him at the Silverstone HQ, Szafanuer played an instrumental role in keeping the beleaguered team going until Lawrence Stroll stepped in with big money and with it the birth of Racing Point.

That then morphed into Aston Martin, at which time Szafnauer was excess luggage for the project’s lofty ambitions. Put it this way if Szafnauer was indeed a hotshot, Stroll would not have head-hunted Martin Whitmarsh and/or whoever else, to replace him. Harsh but true.

Piastri-McLaren saga left Otmar with kangaroo poo in his eye

Even prior to the start of this season, Szafnauer’s management skills (or lack thereof) were put under the spotlight, first when Fernando Alonso defected to Aston Martin, the Spaniard did not feel the love nor share the same vision of Alpine’s F1 project. Stroll’s was far more attractive.

Maybe Otmar should have taken a leaf out of Toto Wolff’s twinkle-toe management of Lewis Hamilton and made mega-star Alonso feel he was the future of the Alpine team, as a driver for now but then a team role od sorts whenever he hangs up his helmet, even a WEC Hypercar campaign, as any sensible team boss would do. Namely, keep the main guy comfy, after all, he did win Renault’s last two F1 titles. And look at him now in a decent car, with Aston Martin.

That must be painful for Otmar, enhanced no doubt by the fact that rookie defector Piastri has four points to his name. It is well documented how Szafnauer fumbled that one too, ending with kangaroo poo in his eye, wiped away only when Gasly came ‘home’ to join Ocon in the all-French team led by the American, go figure. What is Rossi thinking?

Alpine talked the talk during the F1 preseason but haven’t walked the walk

Matt Harman will be eating his words after his post-Bahrain F1 testing declaration: “We were very pleased with our development program in 2022, and we created a clear, well-structured plan to bring upgrades regularly, along with bigger and more effective updates at certain points during the year. This season, we aim to be even more aggressive.”

But that early season bluster and optimism has come to zero thanks to the check of reality. Furthermore, another Baku-style fiasco in Miami this weekend will be a hard one to explain away. Nevertheless, heading to Florida, the Alpine team boss is upbeat: “We demonstrated our race pace in Australia.

“We have a better chance to validate our upgrade package in Miami. We must keep working hard as a team, keep up our understanding of how to maximise the most from our package and target a much-improved overall team performance in Miami,” stated Szafanuer.

The road back won’t be easy for a team that is the only one using Renault PUs, while other suppliers have multiple teams, which – in terms of data – puts them on the back foot in the way Honda suffered when they went solo with McLaren. The more cars the merrier, ask Honda now with four cars with the PUs they built.

Add to that the amount of mileage Alpine have missed out already this season with technical issues or downright incompetence, and you have to wonder: if Renault decides to cash in their F1 chips, sell the whole operation (again) to focus the Alpine brand on the burgeoning WEC Hypercar series and rallies, cheaper and more relevant to their brand, while F1 targets and flogs itself shamelessly to a younger market, hardly able to afford a Chev Spark let alone Alpine’s cheapest sportscar, or any for that matter which is why manufacturers go racing: to sell cars for real money and not for clicks on social media!

Is Szafanuer the first Pay-Team-Principal financed by a sponsor?

As it stands, having American Szfanuer in charge of a proudly French outfit (not delivering and blundering as he did Alonso and Piastri plus a woeful campaign to this point) is the mismatch it appeared when he became Alpine boss with BWT in tow. Begging the question: is Otmar the first Pay-Team-Principal? Financed by a sponsor? Has to be asked!

In closing, it’s worth noting that F1’s management silly season has been in top gear for several months, with Andreas Seidl heading off to the Audi-Sauber enterprise and Andrea Stella promoted in his place as McLaren TP; Fred Vasseur is in his first year as Ferrari boss having replaced Mattia Binotto, while the latter’s number two Laurent Mekies is AlphaTauri bound to take over from retiring Franz Tost; James Vowles is now TP at Williams having departed Mercedes, where James Allison has been taken off TikTok duty and put back where he belongs in the organisation, aka making F1 Mercs go faster.

Therefore, with the mess the Alpine team is in right now, the headline question is pertinent: Alpine F1 boss Szafnauer the next head to roll?