2024 F1 season previews: Will Alpine be stuck in the middle again?

To say that the 2023 Formula 1 season was one of upheaval for Alpine would be an understatement.

The origins of that upheaval can be traced to the second half of the 2022 season. Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix that season, Sebastian Vettel announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season, putting to rest weeks — if not months — of speculation. That opened up a spot at Aston Martin alongside Lance Stroll for the 2023 campaign.

Speculation about who would slide into that seat reached a fever pitch when Fernando Alonso, who was yet to re-sign with Alpine for the 2023 season, was spotted entering the Aston Martin motorhome in the paddock.

Eventually, Alonso announced that he was making the move to Aston Martin, which now opened up a spot at Alpine alongside Esteban Ocon. Alpine originally believed that Oscar Piastri, who was a reserve driver with the team for 2022 but also served as a reserve driver for McLaren pursuant to an agreement between the two teams. Alpine went as far as to announce on August 2, 2022 that Piastri would be the team’s second driver in 2023.

Prompting a denial from Piastri on social media just hours later.

The matter eventually wound up in front of the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board to determine if indeed Piastri was under contract to drive for Alpine in 2023, or if he was free to drive for another team, in this case McLaren. The CRB eventually ruled against Alpine, and Piastri’s move to McLaren — contingent upon the Woking-based outfit reaching a termination agreement with Daniel Ricciardo — was confirmed shortly thereafter.

That left the team searching for a second driver yet again, with the wheel of fortune landing on Pierre Gasly, who was announced as Alonso’s replacement ahead of the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix. The driver pairing put together Ocon and Gasly, who grew up in the same region of France and started out karting together.

While their friendship grew strained over the years due to the competition created by the sport, both drivers viewed the pairing as a chance to rekindle that friendship:

Gasly recalled their shared past in a 2018 episode of the Beyond the Grid podcast: “Just to see the way we grew up and where we are now, it’s just fantastic. So I think we really respect each other as a driver, but unfortunately there is not the feeling that we had in the past, which was much more friendly.”

Still, Gasly hopes the two can renew what was a great relationship. “It’s an opportunity for both of us to get back to a similar relationship that we had in the past,” Gasly said in an interview with F1.com after the move was announced. “What was the probability that two six-year-old kids from Normandy, France, living 20 minutes from each other, would end up 20 years later as team-mates in a French team? I think that is incredible and a very special story.”

After the announcement, Ocon also struck a conciliatory tone. “Now we are team-mates in a team from Normandy and we are both from Normandy, so I think we can write a great story together.”

However, the changes were just beginning. The team endured an underwhelming start to the 2023 campaign — more on that in a moment — and frustration started to boil over. Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi aired his frustrations ahead of the Miami Grand Prix:

“It’s disappointing, it’s actually bad,” he said. “This year ended up starting with a flawed performance and flawed delivery. It’s obvious our position in the standings is not worthy of the resources we spend, and we are quite far – in fact very far – from this year’s end goal.”

Rossi was not done with his harsh assessment.

“I did not like the first grand prix, because there was a lot of – I’m sorry for saying this – amateurishness, which led to a result that wasn’t right. It was mediocre, bad,” said Rossi. “And the last race in Baku was tremendously similar to the one in Bahrain. That is not acceptable.”

Ultimately, the axe fell for a number of key figures at Alpine. Surprisingly, it was Rossi who was first on the chopping block, as he was replaced as the CEO at Alpine by Philippe Krief. Rossi was moved to another position within Alpine, putting him in charge of “special projects.” Bruno Famin was moved into a Vice President position at Alpine, and at the time it was indicated he would be in charge of the F1 team.

More changes followed. Ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix it was announced that Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer and Sporting Director Alan Permane had been dismissed from their positions, and would be leaving the team following the Belgian Grand Prix. Famin took over the Team Principal role on an interim basis.

Oh, and as all this was happening, the team added a host of new minority owners, including a group of partners that included Maximum Effort Investments, which is led by Ryan Reynolds along with co-investors Rob McElhenney and fellow actor Michael B. Jordan. Later in the year more famous owners joined the ownership group, including golfer Rory McIlroy and two football players who have a big game coming up, Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce.

Like we said … it was a lot.

As for how things unfolded on the track? Alpine was somewhat caught in the middle of the entire 2023 F1 season. They struggled to squeeze enough power out of the A523, which reportedly cost them around a half-second per lap on average. While they managed to score enough points that Williams and company never threatened them for sixth in the Constructors’ Championship, they were never a serious threat to finish higher up the table. By the end of the Canadian Grand Prix they were more than 100 points behind Aston Martin and in fifth place, and shortly thereafter McLaren rocketed past them, leaving Alpine ultimately sixth when all was said and done.

F1 Grand Prix of Monaco

Photo by Emmanuele Ciancaglini/Ciancaphoto Studio/Getty Images

2023 highlight: Monaco Grand Prix

“Estie Bestie’s on the podium baby!”

24 Hours of Le Mans. Indianapolis 500. The Monaco Grand Prix. These three events make up the “Triple Crown” of motorsport and represent three of the most famous auto races in the world.

For F1, the Monaco Grand Prix remains the sport’s crown jewel. Success on the Monte Carlo streets requires a mastery of the hairpin turns and narrow circuit on the sport’s biggest stage. For every F1 driver, and team, Monaco is where you want to win.

So it was something of a shock that despite their early-season struggles. last season’s Monaco Grand Prix ended with a podium of Max Verstappen on top (which was not a surprise) followed by Alonso and yes, Ocon.

However, Ocon was not the only Alpine driver to finish in the points in Monaco. For his part Gasly came across seventh, as the team banked 21 points that weekend.

It was their best weekend of the season.

2023 lowlight: Australian Grand Prix

Do you remember last season’s Australian Grand Prix dear reader? I sure do.

Alpine, however, would rather forget that weekend.

The weekend began with Alpine on something of the front foot, as both Gasly and Ocon advanced to Q2. While Ocon failed to make it into Q3, he ended up qualifying 11th. As for Gasly, he did advance to Q3, and started the Grand Prix right ahead of Ocon in ninth.

A double-points finish was certainly on the table.

And with just a handful of laps left in the Grand Prix, it looked like that finish was in the cards. Both Gasly and Ocon were running in the top ten when a red flag came out due to Kevin Magnussen hitting the wall at Turn 2 on Lap 55.

The race would be restarted, with Gasly in P5 and Ocon in P10. However, chaos quickly ensued on the restart. Carlos Sainz Jr. made contact with Alonso on the restart, setting off a chain reaction that ended with Gasly and Ocon colliding along the right side of the track, knocking both Alpine drivers out of the Grand Prix.

Both drivers were summoned by race officials to discuss the incident following the Grand Prix, but race stewards found that it was a “first lap racing incident.”

But it was a bitter pill for the team to swallow.

“I’m very disappointed in the outcome of today’s race. We were in fifth place for most of it, chasing Carlos [Sainz] for fourth place and we showed really good race pace,” said Gasly after the race. “For us to be so close to scoring ten points and leaving without any is a bitter one for us to take. Right now, we must focus on the positives and that is how we managed our race and how we were able to take the fight to our rivals ahead. I’m glad both Esteban and I are OK after the incident. As a team, we’ll move on and keep focused for the next race.”

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi

Photo by James Gasperotti/Ciancaphoto Studio/Getty Images

Outlook for 2024

First things first.

Alpine needs to find more power with the A524, which they will unveil later today.

Matt Harman, the team’s Technical Director, noted in a recent interview with Motorsport that the A524 will be a “front-to-back” redesign. “I think that’s why for the following year’s car, we’ve had to really unlock some real estate again, which is why the car is completely new, front-to-back,” said Harman. “So I think you’ll see that up and down the grid, because the car needs to last for a couple of years while we look for the future.”

As for where the A523 struggled in 2023, Harman noted that it was hard to find the right right spot for the car each week, and changing conditions or different circuit characteristics gave the car a narrow error band.

“I think its weakness is it needs to operate in a very narrow window,” he said. “And if you go to a circuit where it’s has a particular surface condition or a high level of ride content or something, then we can find ourselves in a position where it’s more of a struggle, and the drivers don’t enjoy the car.

“That’s one of its weaknesses at the moment, that it is quite narrow. So we need to broaden it a little bit. We thought we broadened it enough going into the season, but clearly, we didn’t. So that’s what we’re working on.”

When you consider how much time they were losing each lap with the A523, the fact Alpine managed to finish sixth is almost impressive. They have an experienced driver pairing, and if they can extract more power — and better lap times — from the A524 than its predecessor, they could certainly improve their standing next season.

If not, however, it could be another year that finds them stuck in the middle.

Person under the most pressure to perform in 2024: Bruno Famin

There is no shortage of pressure to go around at Alpine in 2024. One could make the case that both Ocon and Gasly are under the most heat, as each driver has just one year left on their current deal and the pressure will be on to keep their seats.

You could make the case that Harman and the technical team are under the most pressure, given the need to extract every second possible from the A524.

But ultimately, the buck stops with Bruno Famin, who stepped into the Team Principal’s role after the mid-season sacking of Szafnauer on an interim basis, and is retaining that position going forward.

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