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Szafnauer: Renault management lacks understanding on how to succeed in F1

Former Alpine Formula 1 team boss Otmar Szafnauer says Renault's senior management lacks understanding of what it takes to be successful in the series.

Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal, Alpine F1 in paddock

Szafnauer departed the team after last month's Belgian Grand Prix as part of wholesale changes at the Enstone outfit, with long-time sporting director Alan Permane also leaving.

The news followed the departure of Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi, who was moved aside by Renault CEO Luca de Meo to a position away from the F1 programme.

At Spa, interim team principal Bruno Famin said Szafnauer and Renault were on "different timelines" in terms of cutting short Alpine's five-year plan to fight for wins and championships.

Talking to SiriusXM, Szafnauer says he "couldn't agree to an unrealistic timeline" with de Meo, saying the Renault management had a lack of understanding of what it takes to be successful in F1.

"I think the senior management at Renault, CEO Luca de Meo, as everyone does in F1, wants success instantly and unfortunately, that's not how it works in F1," Szafnauer said.

"They wanted to do it faster than is possible and I couldn't agree to an unrealistic timeline because if you do that, it's only a matter of time and everyone gets frustrated, so I laid out a very realistic and possible plan and I think they wanted to shortcut that plan with somebody else."

Szafnauer pointed to Renault's lack of patience over his recruitment plans as a symptom of the underlying issues.

He revealed that when he started at Alpine 18 months ago, he found several gaps in the Enstone team's know-how. Plugging those holes by attracting staff from rival teams, who are generally on long-term contracts and subject to gardening leave, involves long lead times.

According to Szafnauer, Renault's lack of understanding of that process meant he couldn't get that message across to his bosses.

"There are pockets of the organisation that the skill level is at a very elementary level and that's because the people they have there were college graduates, for example, as opposed to somebody with 25 years of knowledge.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A523

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A523

Photo by: Alpine

"It was in those areas that I started to recruit, but the best in Formula 1 are usually on long-term contracts, at least three years.

"I was able to convince quite a few people in areas that we needed to bolster, but unfortunately they were to come some in the autumn of 2023, most of them mid 2024 and some of them in 2025, and that's what I try to explain that: 'Look, it's happening, it's coming and sometimes you take a half step backwards to take two forward.

"And they just didn't have that understanding. Either it was impatience or it was emotion, but definitely no understanding and unfortunately that's what it takes and that's what they'll find."

Szafnauer added the interference from the Renault group was "more than I've ever seen before", with various departments not reporting directly to him but to his superiors.

"The parent company wanted to have a lot of control in a lot of areas of the racing team, more than I've ever seen before," he explained.

"The commercial area, the marketing area, HR, finance, communication, all that stuff reported not to me but around me, to somebody else in the bigger organisation, and they all act like a Navy, and we have to be pirates in order to win.

"It's not okay at all because if you're going to hire somebody and you've got to get a contract out within a day because that's what we do in Formula 1, you can't take two weeks.

"If it takes you two weeks, maybe that special hire went somewhere else. You've got to be pirates."

SiriusXM's full Szafnauer interview is aired on Thursday night at 6pm ET on Cars & Culture with Jason Stein, on SiriusXM Business Radio channel 132.

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