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Analysis

What’s gone wrong with Alpine’s new Formula 1 car?

When Alpine changed concept with its 2024 Formula 1 car, it knew that it would be a case of taking one step backwards to hopefully move two steps forwards.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

When teams embark on such a change of direction, it is inevitable that they endure a learning phase in understanding how to extract pace out of their new platform.

In Alpine’s case, however, the revamp for this year has not yet delivered any of the progress hoped for – and has so far only led to its A524 being painfully off the pace in the opening two races.

The fears leading team figures expressed at the new car launch of it being a tough start to the campaign have proved spot on – although admittedly things have been even worse than feared, as the French manufacturer currently seems pegged near the back of the field.

As team principal Bruno Famin said ahead of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix: “It’s been a tough start to the season. And, actually, it’s been more challenging than we expected.

“We must keep progressing and keep bettering our understanding as to why we are lacking performance and, ultimately, how we can improve the package. Clearly, we have issues to fix quickly.”

Bruno Famin, Team Principal, Alpine F1 Team

Bruno Famin, Team Principal, Alpine F1 Team

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The problems Alpine needs to address

The difficulty for Alpine is that it is facing issues on multiple fronts, with the team needing to address many factors if it is to have any hope of moving forwards.

Shortly before news of his resignation emerged at the Bahrain Grand Prix, the team’s former technical director Matt Harman spoke openly about the sources of Alpine’s problems – and there are three clear areas that stand out.

First of all, it knows that it is fighting with one arm tied behind its back because its power unit is lacking compared to the opposition. Depending on whose figures are more reliable, estimates put the deficit somewhere between 15-30bhp. In the super-tight midfield, the time lost there makes a difference.

On top of the power headache, Alpine has also begun the campaign with a car that is overweight. This has been openly discussed in public, although the team has not revealed any figures about just how much excess bulk it is carrying.

One source suggested that temporary measures needed to bulk things up to pass a specific crash test over the winter had meant up to 15kg extra being added over what was originally intended – which pushed it from below to quite a bit above the minimum weight limit.

It is not clear how accurate that figure is (as it seems quite excessive) but, asked if some crash-test failures had played a part in the extra weight, Harman said: “Not some, it was one in particular. It has played a bit of a part in some of that.

“But let's not forget, we need to push very hard [with the crash tests]. Failing nothing is an easy thing to do. We can definitely do that.

“I think the people back at Enstone reacted and responded amazingly to that. And I'm very proud of everyone. We were at the filming day. We were at the test with a very, very good reliability. Now we just need to correct that master ship.”

Pierre Gasly, Alpine A524

Pierre Gasly, Alpine A524

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Harman also said that a clear plan had been put in place by the team to address things and get the team back to the 798kg limit.

“We know exactly where the weight is, and we know how to take it out,” he said. “It's just mostly about exercising our operational system and getting it to the car.

“It isn't where we want to be, if I'm completely honest. But I think within a very, very short period of time, we will be back at the weight limit.”

But it is not those two issues that appear to be Alpine’s biggest headache. Instead, the real problem revolves around the rear of the car – where Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon are being hampered by a lack of both traction and downforce.

Harman has referenced what he calls ‘CLR’ – which refers to the coefficient of lift, rear. In layman’s terms, this means the A524 needs to produce more rear downforce to help balance out what it has been able to find at the front. Until it delivers that, things are going to be difficult.

“Like most people do at the start, we need more CLR – we need more load in the rear of the car,” he said. “We'd like to have better traction on the car.

“We put some things in place to give us better traction mechanically. Now we need to complement that with some advanced aerodynamics there to complement it.”

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Performance limit

Despite what is a far-from-ideal situation, Harman said that Alpine had to risk going through what is happening now because it would have rapidly hit a ceiling of performance with its own design.

“Midway through the A523, we started to find it more and more difficult to find performance,” he said.

“We have a cost/benefit ratio, which made it more difficult to justify putting that performance on the car. So, well before that, we thought: let's try and unlock that potential, and try to get ourselves back to where we were in 2022.”

And while Harman will no longer be playing a part in the recovery drive, with a new technical structure now in place, he was clear when he spoke in Bahrain that the decision to do something new this year was one aimed at avoiding trouble further down the road.

“It was a courageous decision to take because, fundamentally, we need potential for two years with this car,” he said. “And if we don't do that, then we may be struggling later on. That was the whole point of this.”

Alpine will certainly be hoping that that decision was right and its short-term pain will eventually bring it some long-term gain.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524

Photo by: Shameem Fahath

Watch: F1 2024 Australian Grand Prix Preview - Everything You Need To Know

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