Why Alpine is banking on radical change of approach to deliver F1 glory

Formula 1 has a long history of manufacturer teams laying out five-year plans to deliver victories and a world championship assault – only to fall short.

Why Alpine is banking on radical change of approach to deliver F1 glory

Multitudes of factors prove too troublesome in the end; but a common thread is that the costs to get to the front of F1 prove unsustainable, plus there is too much impatience from company boards for short-term progress.

So when current Alpine F1 CEO Laurent Rossi talks about a 100-race plan to get the French manufacturer regularly to the front of F1, you could be forgiven for think that history is about to repeat itself.

For nearly 20 races in to its programme, Alpine may have got a win with Esteban Ocon’s triumph in Hungary, but its overall form in F1 appears to have hit a plateau.

If it ends the season where it currently is, it will mark the third straight year when the team has finished fifth in the constructors’ championship.

Momentum towards the front appears to have stalled, so it is easy to doubt that, in another 80 races’ times, its vision to be at the front can be achieved.

But, as Rossi explains in an exclusive interview with Autosport, its situation is very different to what manufacturer teams have faced in the past.

For a combination of F1’s cost cap, a new rules era, and a big picture approach from himself and Renault CEO Luca de Meo, puts the team in a place of long-term strength.

Gone are fears of needing to throw money into a bottomless pit, and banished too is the pressure of needing to hit short term performance targets.

Instead, irrespective of where Alpine shakes out when F1’s new 2022 cars hit the track next year, the focus will be on delivering the progress and performance that is needed to be where it wants at the end of its plan. It's a sprint not a marathon.

“Wherever we are at the beginning of next year, I won't deviate from the objective,” explains Rossi.

“We are going to take it race after race, season after season. We won't change the objective and you're not going to see me scramble and change the programme just to show a better performance two races after the beginning of the season. We'll take our time to get where we want.

Laurent Rossi, CEO, Alpine F1, and Esteban Ocon, Alpine F1, 1st position, on the podium

Laurent Rossi, CEO, Alpine F1, and Esteban Ocon, Alpine F1, 1st position, on the podium

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

“We want to avoid the pitfall of building on the short term, which has cost a lot to many teams in the past. We want to be able to build on the long term.

“It's a radical change of approach to the way we look at F1, and the way we build performance, but it is the way you should do it if you want to perform.

“The top teams today, their results are the fruit of many years of bad results, of being at the bottom of the rankings, of putting stone after stone in place for the new organisation to deliver when it matters. That's what I want to do.”

Confidence about being able to make decisions for the long term is enhanced by the full support of Renault's de Meo, who approved the vision as part of a major overhaul of the French manufacturer’s individual brands last year.

Alpine’s ability to think longer term comes because that is exactly what de Meo wants.

Rossi adds: “The context is actually incredibly favourable because Luca de Meo, first of all, is the architect behind all of this.

“He has a clear vision of what it takes to climb the ladder, and the time it takes to do so. So he’s completely aligned with that plan, the 100-race plan, and the fact that this should take us to the top.”

Plus, de Meo’s ability to be patient is boosted by the changed financial structure in F1, which means costs are lower than in the past – and budgets are no longer at risk of spiralling out of control.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine F1

Esteban Ocon, Alpine F1

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Rossi added: “A cost cap on the chassis is an incredibly game changing type of factor. Before, you could decide to invest around $200 million over three or four years to get you to where you wanted to be.

“But then suddenly a newcomer could come in and pour $400 million a year, every year. Granted they don't have the experience or the savviness, but they could catch up quite quickly and it would change the natural order.

“This is over. Now everyone will have to play with the same amount of money on the chassis side.

“On top of that, we are not just an F1 outfit. We also have a road car division, and the road car division will also start yielding its fruit in terms of profit, because we're going to have more than just one car.

“We're going to have three cars at the very least coming in 2024, 2025 and 2026, and very likely other cars will follow. And these cars will generate profits that will be contributing to the financing of motorsports activities.

“At the end of the day, our goal by 2025, as well as being on the top of the podium for the Alpine division, will be to be break even.

“So that means that the Renault Group will have to invest less and less over time in the team. That's actually a very virtuous circle. And this is the plan we devised with Luca de Meo.

“He is the architect of this plan, and it's great to have that kind of common alignment between the group and myself. Because I know what I'm doing and I know where I'm going.”

Although Alpine’s F1 era is only in its first campaign, with a new structure that Rossi put in place when he took over at the start of the year, the Frenchman is not afraid to shake things up already.

He is open that the Enstone-based team has not had as fast a car as he would have liked to have seen. Operationally though, he says the squad has been strong, and holding on to its fifth place until the end of the campaign will be a good reward.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

But, as the nature of F1 changes next year with the arrival of the new rules era, Rossi suggests the team will need to undergo some changes: with shifts in where resources is devoted to, to ensure that there are maximum returns on track.

“We'll need to evolve the team a little bit,” he explained. “I think the team has moved from P9 to P5, before the plateau we've reached, pretty well in the past years.

“But now, to move to the next stage and become the best of the top teams, rather than just the best of the rest, it's another evolution that is needed.

“So what I want to do is to keep the momentum of the prior season, that's why I want to keep that fifth position. I don't want us to regress.

“We learned a lot operationally this year, so that's always a plus. We're going to apply that next year.

“But then we're going to need to build muscles to grow and move from P5 to P1, race after race, season after season in the next few years. That's another story. That's another chapter. But definitely I want more than the P5 for sure.”

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The 100-race plan puts Alpine on roughly the same glide path as Aston Martin, which has revealed its bold investment and new factory plan to get it to the front of F1.

But amid an ultra-competitive grid that already includes big hitters like Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, what does Rossi feel Alpine has that can allow it to deliver its goal?

“Well there's one thing for sure, which is the fact we are a works team,” he said.

“Honestly, the data shows there are times where the chassis, the aero, was more important. Then it was the engine, and then it was the driver. At the end of the day, it is a combination of the three today.

“It's certain and we have already the possibility of having the best possible integration of a PU in the chassis, because we are a works team. Others don't have the luxury, others will have to take the engine the way it's manufactured, the way it's designed, the way it's developed, and try and adapt their chassis.

“We have a very different approach to it, which only three teams can do: Ferrari, Mercedes and ourselves. So that's already a big plus for us.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“Then we also have 45 years of experience in F1, which is quite important because even if you bring a lot of investment, we've seen in the recent past that a lot of teams with considerable financial means could not overcome their lack of experience in terms of designing a car, developing it, and getting it ready on the right date.

“There's so many parameters where you cannot buy experience. We have that. So I think this is also a big plus.

“Then we have a big industrial group behind us. It seems anecdotal, but it's actually quite important. F1, just like any other discipline or industry, is going to be more and more dealing with data, with artificial intelligence, with new ways of building performance.

“So when you're dealing with and being supported by a group that's been doing that for the past 20 years, and has tremendous experience in those fields, it's a plus. You can tap into a pool of resources that is normally out of your reach.

“We have experts in plenty of fields that we can just summon in one moment. And that's also quite important because that can become quite critical in the future, in building the performance, alongside the traditional drivers that I just mentioned before: the experience and the savviness.

“Being able to deliver performance in critical breakthrough fields such as data, AI, machine learning and the likes, I think is going to be paramount.”

For Rossi, although 2021 hasn’t delivered everything he perhaps would have liked, his ambition for the team has not been quelled. He knows where he wants the team to get to, and how he plans to get it there.

“We want to be back on the podium and I want the team to win,” he says. “It's as simple as that.

“I don't want us to vie for best of the rest or what have you. We need to aim for victory. We need to aim for it, and it's not out of reach in a cost cap era when you are a works team with 45 years of experience.

“It's not completely impossible. It's actually very possible, very reasonable. So that's what the team has as an objective. I’ve set it for them.”

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521, 1st position, takes victory to the delight of his team on the pit wall

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521, 1st position, takes victory to the delight of his team on the pit wall

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

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