Why Alpine are so slow, and the critical barrier to replicating McLaren’s recovery

Pierre Gasly was the only driver over a second down on Q1 leader Carlos Sainz at the 2024 Bahrain GP

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The last time Alpine qualified at the back of the grid was the 2016 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, they were known as Renault and sported yellow. Or at least, that was true until the 2024 Bahrain GP But why exactly are they so slow? Pierre Gasly explained what’s holding them back.

As a works team, the French group were expecting to progress up the field to join Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Aston Martin‘s party but instead they’ve dropped behind every single team below them, leaving Otmar Szafnauer no doubt chuckling to himself.

The Romanian-American was fired in mid-2023, along with other personnel, as top executives blamed him for the team’s lack of progress to the front. According to the 59-year-old they had an infamous five-year plan to be on the top step of the podium, around 120 races’ time.

Yet coming up to one year on, they qualified 1.6 and 1.7 seconds off pole despite possessing two capable drivers in Esteban Ocon and Gasly, and the latter explained why he can’t find any pace in the pink and black car.

“Everyone was queuing up and we were the last car on track,” Gasly said to media after qualifying for the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix. “I ended up pushing flat out on my out-lap to make it past the line, so I feel like we could have potentially get a shot at Q2, but in the bigger picture we’re far away from where we want to be.”

The 28-year-old added: “At the minute I just really get the front that I need inside the car and get the rotation that I want.

“Honestly, when you’re slow generally it never feels really great. I’ve been experimenting in every single session at the minute, trying to find if there is a magic trick that’s unlock some potential for now, and I haven’t found it yet.”

Why Alpine won’t respond like McLaren did

Oscar Piastri leads Esteban Ocon of Alpine at his home 2023 Australian Grand Prix | McLaren F1 Team

Alpine‘s current A524 is thought to fail to excel in any area whilst also being critically overweight with an uncompetitive power unit, highlighting the extent that the team have simply dropped the ball.

For an understanding of how bad that is, even Haas managed to be solid in qualifying in 2023 (Austrian Sprint), Williams had good speed on power-dominant tracks (Monza) and Sauber showed good high-speed performance (Hungary) and those three teams finished as the bottom three last year.

But they’re hardly the first team in F1 to fall below their own expectations so when will they respond? Despite Gasly being hopeful of future developments, their poor leadership means that they’re doomed to lurch from disaster to disaster.

There is little chance of a recovery akin to what Aston Martin, McLaren and even Mercedes have produced since 2022 when the team is so disjointed and ununified.

Since Cyril Abiteboul departed at the end of 2020, Alpine have changed their figurehead three times now between Marcin Budkowski, Szafnauer and now Bruno Famin.

The current team principal is actually in an interim role so it can be expected that they will change the boss again and that creates a very serious problem, where is the stability? Where is the long-term strategy and consistency the Enstone-based team needs?

Each new leader will come in with their own thoughts on the car design, what to prioritise, which staff they want and how they want to actually run things on a day-to-day basis which means that the team will never be able to settle and focus on what they actually need to do which is to find lap time.

Zak Brown has been installed as McLaren CEO since they started slowly crawl back up the grid after the Honda disaster of 2016 and has served as a beacon of stability while they had Ron Dennis for 35 years before that.

Brown, who is heavily involved in the racing team whilst simultaneously understanding when he needs to stay out of it, has carefully reconstructed the Woking outfit on and off the track to become one of the sport’s premier teams.

His leadership has taken McLaren back to the top step of the podium and helped earn them nine podiums in 2023.

And that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had setbacks either. He had to fire James Key, their technical director, at the start of 2022 after his team principal, Andreas Seidl, quit for Sauber, but the calmness of having one senior person in the loop helped the team almost seamlessly roll over.

At the moment, Alpine are so far away from that they might as well pack their bags up and head to Chinese F4.

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