Laurent Rossi, Alpine’s CEO, is not happy with the state of affairs at his Formula 1 team, and is holding team principal Otmar Szafnauer the responsibility, as the buck stops with him.
Alpine finished the 2022 F1 season fourth in the Constructors’ Championship after a season-long fight with McLaren, and with the team looking to improve in 2023, closing the gap to the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull, they have instead fallen back and currently sit sixth in the Constructors’ Championship with only 14 points.
Alpine’s points’ tally come courtesy of Pierre Gasly’s scoring points in three races, Esteban Ocon in just two. Gasly was ninth in Bahrain, on his debut with the team, while teammate Esteban Ocon retired his car. Ocon and Gasly finished eighth and ninth in Saudi Arabia respectively, but went out to wipe each other out in Australia after a messy restart, the blame leaning more towards the new driver of the team.
Azerbaijan was a pointless affair for the French team with driver and team errors aplenty, while in Miami Gasly was eighth and Ocon was ninth, a modest points haul.
Naturally, the big wigs at Alpine and Renault, aka Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi and Renault CEO Luca de Meo, are not satisfied with their F1 project’s performance currently run by Otmar Szafnauer who joined them from Aston Martin in 2022, his first contributions to the team being; losing Fernando Alonso to his former team, and Oscar Piastri to McLaren, the latter maybe not his fault totally.
GrandPrix247 have highlighted that it wouldn’t be too far fetched to see Szafnauer being shown the door at Enstone, in light of the team’s embarrassing start of the 2023 season, with abundancy of operational errors at every race, not to mention the team’s A523 that has failed to deliver on expectations.
And it seems now that the heat on for the American/Romanian engineer, as his boss, Laurent Rossi didn’t hold back when asked about his feelings regarding how matters are at Alpine.
Insufficient development, operational and driver errors
While in Miami, and speaking to Formula 1’s Official Website, Rossi said: “We started the season behind development targets. We were lacking performance compared to where we wanted to be to cement P4. We have made a lot of mistakes, too many mistakes, over the weekend. When you compound that relatively lower performance and lack of operational excellence you end up in a difficult position.
“It makes for a difficult year ahead. The season is still young. I don’t want to give up, but a couple of things need to change. We need to continue reinforcing the team to get the performance back. One of the things that needs to change, as it’s largely the same team as last year, is mindset. It is something that needs to change for people in the team now and new people we are going to add,” he explained.
“It starts with owning up to your mistakes, to not repeat the mistakes, to learn from your mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s not okay to make them twice because it means you didn’t learn. This year, there is a lot of excuses, which lead to poor performance and a lack of operational excellence.
“I need to tackle this, I need the right people to tackle this. I need the team to be aware they need to do that as it’s not up to me – it’s up to them, they have to do it. It’s their responsibility. I hope they make the same diagnosis. I will make it clear to them that this is the diagnosis and they need to fix that,” Rossi maintained.
Asked how responsible Szafnauer is for what is happening at Alpine; the Alpine CEO did not hold back, he said: “He [Szafnauer] is responsible for the performance of the team – that’s his job.
“There is no hiding here. Otmar was brought in to steer the team, through the season and the next seasons towards the objectives that we have, which is to constantly make progress, as we did in the first two years – fifth and fourth – and to get to the podiums and therefore, this is his mission to turn this team around and bring it to the performance that we want.
“We had a team that performed reasonably well last year, got the fourth position which is the best improvement we had in a long time. It showed a lot of promise. It’s more of less the same people so I don’t accept that we are not capable of maintaining that.
“Yes, it is Otmar and the rest of his team as Otmar alone doesn’t do everything, but the buck stops with Otmar. It’s Otmar’s responsibility, yes,” the Frenchman insisted.
Trust eroding, and consequences are on the way
And when asked if he still trust the team boss; Rossi’s verdict was damning: “Trust is something that increases with good results and erodes with bad results.
“Everyone starts with a capital of trust and then you manage it. There are only so many setbacks you can take in a sport, in a competition world, because basically it shows. Everyone can tell whether or not you’re going in the right direction. It directly impacts your capital of trust. I would say Otmar is very capable, but he has a big task on his hands,” he added.
What makes matters more painful for Alpine, is that they saw Aston Martin, a team who finished seventh in the 2022 Constructors’ Championship make a quantum leap in 2023, fighting Red Bull almost every race, and currently second in the Constructors’ with Alonso – to make things more painful – scoring four podiums so far, his latest being at the 2023 Miami Grand Prix.
Asked if lack of resources was to blame for Alpine’s poor form, Rossi pointed out: “Enstone has never had as much resources at their disposal for a continuous number of years. The runway here is 10 years. There will never be a time where the team will be short.
“Aston have less engineers than us, as far as I know,” he highlighted. “They don’t have their own wind tunnel yet, they don’t have their plant running at the moment. They hyper-charged development by having the right people joining them.
“It shows that it’s down to creativity and efficiency. It’s the rule of the game, we know that. So no, I’m sorry, I don’t buy the resource excuse,” Rossi blasted.
The 48-year-old engineer insists Alpine’s target is still to maintain fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, as he considers anything else a failure.
“It’s too early to do that – and I don’t want to give people the comfort. I don’t enter a competition and reset my objective because it’s easier,” responded when asked if Alpine will reset their target for 2023 based on their early troubles.
“The team managed to get fourth. They have the means to get fourth, more so than others. I want them to be fourth. If they don’t, it’s going to be a failure. If they fail by giving 500% best and turning this ship around, there will be extenuating circumstances and it bodes well for the future.
“If not, it’s the rule of business, there’s going to be consequences. And I won’t wait until the end of the year. The trajectory is not good. We need to fix the mindset of the team ASAP,” Rossi concluded.
If that last statement is anything to go by, that means the clock is ticking over Szafnauer’s career at Enstone. Whether it is fair to blame him fully after just two seasons with the team, that’s another discussion for later.