Why is Otmar Szafnauer leaving Alpine?

Alpine announced that Otmar Szafnauer will no longer be team principal after the 2023 Belgian GP

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With Alpine announcing the departure of team principal Otmar Szafnauer as part of a leadership shake-up, the big question in the Formula 1 paddock is why the French team have made such a change midway through the 2023 season.

Szafnauer joined as team principal in February 2022 after leaving Aston Martin, but following a series of embarrassing incidents for the team, such as the departure of Fernando Alonso and Oscar Piastri, Szafnauer has been ousted.

Alpine Motorsports vice president, Bruno Famlin, who is also serving as the interim-team principal offered an explanation to the departure of Szafnauer and Permane.

“We really thank them [Szafnauer and Alan Permane] for all they brought to the team for a very long time,” Famin said to media. “For Alan, 34 years and more recently with securing the fourth place in the championship last year.

“But we are not on the same line on the timeline to recover the level of performance that we are aiming for, and we agreed to split our ways.

“The result doesn’t match our expectation. We know that the top three [Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes] are very strong but we were aiming to keep that fourth place and to fight a little bit more for third.”

Alpine’s Laurent Rossi, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly and Otmar Szafnauer (R-L) | Alpine F1 Team

During the Szafnauer‘s time with Alpine, the team managed to finish fourth in the Constructors’ Championship as best of the rest, ahead of their rivals McLaren, in 2022.

But in 2023, they have been leapfrogged by both McLaren and Aston Martin to sit sixth fastest overall and by a considerable margin which is what Famin pointed out.

Szafnauer recently referenced Renault‘s 100-race plan to get to the front of the F1 grid, believing that he had 60 races left to turn Alpine around.

Further harming the team is the power unit produced by Renault. Compared to their rivals, it’s lacking in performance and is consistently proving to be unreliable. Although Famin wasn’t overly critical of the engine, he did admit there is work to be done.

“I don’t think that it’s down [on power],” Famin added. “It’s not the best engine on the grid for sure.

“We made a huge step between 2021 and 2022 but it’s still not the best engine.”

The new era of regulations saw engines locked on development of performance with reliability being allowed to be improved until late 2022.

But despite the extra time, the power unit hasn’t been able to match the relative power of Ferrari and Red Bull Powertrains, as well as the bullet-proof the reliability of Mercedes.

Szafnauer’s leadership: pressure and set-backs

Throughout his tenure, Szafnauer‘s control of the team was put into question on a number of occasions, with the most notable moment being Fernando Alonso‘s surprise announcement that he was departing to Aston Martin.

Alpine subsequently tweeted that they had promoted Oscar Piastri to drive for the F1 team, only to discover that the Australian had signed a contract with McLaren. In a series of events that Szafnauer appeared to take personally, the departure of Piastri resulted in the pair going to court.

Fernando Alonso, reserve driver Oscar Piastri and Esteban Ocon during Alpine F1 A522 Launch REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

There, the Contract Recognition Board declared that the deal with McLaren was legitimate and upheld Piastri‘s right to depart – a judgement that Alpine did not contest and subsequently lost a highly rated driver.

Whilst Szafnauer also proved to be unable to control his drivers, as a series of flashpoints threatened to cause both cars to fail to complete a race as shown in Saudi Arabia and Hungary.

In 2023, there would be no upturn of form as Alpine slipped from fourth fastest in the order to sixth fastest, with McLaren and Aston Martin leapfrogging the French outfit.

The loss of pace led to former-CEO, Laurent Rossi, to publicly slam the team.

“The team managed to get fourth [in 2022],” Rossi said. “They have the means to get fourth, more so than others. I want them to be fourth. If they don’t, it’s going to be a failure

“If not, it’s the rule of business, there’s going to be consequences. And I won’t wait until the end of the year. The trajectory is not good. We need to fix the mindset of the team ASAP.

“He [Szafnauer] is responsible for the performance of the team. That’s his job. There is no hiding here… the buck stops with Otmar.”

It appears that Renault‘s patience finally ran out and they decided to pull the trigger after the team were on the wrong end of a 40 point swing to McLaren in two races.

At the same time, McLaren simultaneously showed how possible it is to move up the order after going from one of the slowest cars to the fastest with one major upgrade.

Esteban Ocon in action at the 2023 Austrian GP | Alpine

Who else is leaving Alpine?

Despite a brief respite in Monaco, where Esteban Ocon delivered a first podium since 2021, the lack of progression continue whilst the team also suffered three double-DNFs.

And now, amidst rumours that Alpine broke the cost-cap regulations in 2022, it would appear that the upper-management had enough as Szafnauer represents the fourth leadership figure to leave or be moved away from the F1 team.

In a statement to the media, Alpine said: “Otmar will continue his duties as normal for this weekend’s race in Belgium, before leaving the team ahead of the summer break.

“The team would like to thank Otmar for his hard work over the past 18 months and for leading the team in achieving fourth place in the 2022 Constructors’ Championship. The team wishes him the best for the future.”

Alongside Szafnauer, several other changes have been made. They include: Laurent Rossi (CEO), Pat Fry (Chief Technical Officer) and Alan Permane (Sporting Director).

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