Renault is no stranger to pulling the plug on a troubled Formula 1 program. Given the latest major overhaul of the Alpine F1 team, could we be on the verge of another Renault exit?
Alpine dropped the bombshell news that it had parted ways with team boss Otmar Szafnauer and long-time sporting director Alan Permane on Friday’s Belgian Grand Prix, moments after it was revealed that veteran F1 engineer Pat Fry was leaving the team to join. Williams.
The changes come with the team clearly missing its 2023 target of maintaining last year’s fourth-place finish in the constructors’ championship, but being closer to third than fifth. Alpine is sixth in the standings, currently 134 points clear of fourth.
It has not made the progress it would have liked in the two-and-a-half years since Renault’s rebrand to Alpine, nor eight seasons since Renault’s return to F1 in 2016.
Renault returned having sold a majority of the team in late 2010, when Fernando Alonso’s championship-winning years were firmly in the rear-view mirror and its presence in F1 marred by the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix scandal. It also left the F1 in the mid-1980s as a works team before returning for its second stint in 2002.
Could history repeat itself? That’s what Oscar Robledo of The Race Members’ Club wanted to know.
“So what’s happening is basically a political nightmare as Renault want quick results and have higher expectations which the team hasn’t met,” replied Scott Mitchell-Malm on The Race F1 Podcast.
“There was clearly division – certainly among the leadership of the outgoing team – about what is really realistic and achievable.
“There is a constant mismatch between what the Renault management believe the F1 team should do and achieve versus what the team is actually capable of achieving and where some of the deep-rooted problems lie.
“It just keeps going, it’s another reset in a period of stagnation. It’s just a mess.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Renault eventually steps up and sells, but right now we’ve heard so many times [at Spa] about the ‘Alpine project’ and that the F1 team is basically a vehicle to market the supposed revival of this brand and turn it into a real tangible thing.
“When this ‘project’ is finished – ie. Renault give up on doing the Alpine thing in the real world of motoring or consider this ‘job done’ and it has actually worked – then I think they will dump the team because from all the Evidence I see they don’t really care to run it as a serious sporting endeavor, it’s just a marketing exercise.”
A large part of Renault’s rationale for rebranding Alpine was to promote its niche sports car brand to a wider audience.
But the era was also marked by perceived management interference, the most common of which came when former chief executive Laurent Rossi – since moved to “special projects” – made a series of demands in early May while heavily criticizing the team.
With the value of F1 teams currently reaching new heights as the ‘franchise’ model reaps benefits, it’s easy to imagine Renault/Alpine deciding it’s better to get some of their money back rather than invest more to fail.
“My position would be if they’re not going to let the F1 team run the way an F1 team needs to and there’s going to be this corporate interference, then you can just win it [by selling]”, was Edd Straw’s verdict.
Mark Hughes is frustrated with what the interference has done to a solid race team.
“The problems are caused by corporate intervention going back several years, this is the result of companies being dissatisfied with self-inflicted underperformance,” Hughes explained.
“It’s just a vicious cycle and he’s brought a really good racing team with him in that process.”
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