Can Alpine rebrand help Enstone scale the F1 summit again?


Enstone has a long, storied and successful history in F1 - Adam Cooper examines whether its latest Alpine rebrand can help restore former glories

Alpine A521 F1 car

Can Enstone relive former glories under new Alpine name?

Alpine F1 Team

Forty years after it was born as Toleman, the team known since as Benetton, Renault, Lotus and then Renault again, has yet another identity in 2021.

The switch to the Alpine brand is more than just a PR stunt – it brings with it a genuine sense that the outfit known for years as ‘the Enstone team’ finally has the potential to once again be a genuine contender, as it was when it earned World Championships with Michael Schumacher in 1994-’95, and Fernando Alonso in 2005-‘6.

Alonso’s return for a remarkable third stint at the team is perhaps the most public manifestation of the optimism in the camp right now.

There’s also new management, and hope built on the changes to the rules that should allow teams like Alpine to finally close what had appeared to be an unbridgeable gap to the three big players.

“When you appreciate how much effort is being put into Alpine, it starts to make more sense”

The budget cap has landed at just the right level for Alpine, and crucially along with a more lucrative Concorde Agreement it has helped to convince the Renault Group management to fully commit to a future in the sport.

The decision to switch to the Alpine brand, announced at Monza last year, seemed a little off the wall at the time. Why would a giant mainstream manufacturer put all its efforts behind a specialist sportscar marque? After all F1 didn’t help Spyker to sell many more cars…

When you appreciate how much effort is being put into Alpine, making it – like AMG – the sexy end of the Renault corporate spectrum, it starts to make more sense.

Fernando Alonso, 2020 Abu Dhabi GP

Alonso hopes rejoining Enstone will yield a third F1 crown

Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

It’s also given a point to the whole exercise. For years Renault seemed to be drifting along in F1, present but seemingly just for old times’ sake, and always a day late and a euro short. It was that approach that led to so much frustration at customer Red Bull Racing, and led to a split between the two parties.

The move to Alpine has created a fresh focus, and everyone at the race team and the engine department in Viry is aware that they are now an integral part of building a sporty brand.

Much of the impetus has come from Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo, who took over the role last July.

In a video speech at the launch of the A521 the charismatic Italian made clear his ambitions for the team – and stressed that the Alpine brand is very much a source of inspiration to the wider Renault group.

“We are in F1 for the long run,” he said. “And we are here to win. We will put all required means to be at the best competitive level. Alpine inspires us and pushes this dynamic to the top.

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“Sportiness, elegance, avant garde. It stands for the passion to win, with new challenges to overcome at each race. We lead the same fight in the group to turn the company around. It’s a challenge in which we engage every day. We know that 2021 will be difficult.

“We will fight to make it a success, but it’s a collective effort. The Alpine team contributes to it by giving us pride, and a sense of belonging. Every podium we’ll climb onto will prove that anything is possible.”

Stirring stuff, and while there was more than a touch of PR hyperbole, the key was that message of genuine support for the team from the top management, something that was not so clear cut in the Carlos Ghosn era.

The direct link from the board to the race team is emphasised by the decision to give new Alpine Cars CEO Laurent Rossi overall responsibility for the race team as well as the expanding road car company.

Immediately below him are two joint team bosses: Marcin Budkowski, who joined as executive director and de facto technical boss in April 2018, is now partnered by racing director Davide Brivio, who brings winning knowledge from the MotoGP world.

Gone from the scene is the colourful Cyril Abiteboul, who did much to help rebuild the team over the past few seasons, but wasn’t wanted as part of the new structure.

Like the big boss Rossi makes it clear that Alpine has big ambitions, and he stresses that championships are being targeted under the 2022 regulations.

“Here our objectives are pretty aggressive” Marcin Budkowski, Alpine Technical Director

“It is obvious that it’s a transition year for everyone,” he says. “It’s not a transition year for any team in particular, it’s just the end of a regulation era, and we’re already gearing up and building the car for the new era.

“This year the car is an improved version of last year. Of course, it’s a bit different, but it’s more an evolution than a disruption in terms of design, both from the engine and the chassis side. So we hope to do at least as well as we did last year.

“That is to say, be a consistent contender for podiums, and fight with the best for good to great results during the races.

“So that is this year. Behind the scenes, out of the track, we’re building the new car, the new engine, the new chassis. And here our objectives are pretty aggressive. In fact, Alpine is here to stay. It’s the affirmation of the Renault Group that we want to tackle the new era with high ambitions.

“We decisively designed our processes, our team, in order to first compete for podiums in the mid-term, and then in the longer run compete for victories. And not just races, but also the championship, the drivers’ and the constructors’ championships.

Fernando Alonso driving the Renault R25 in Abu Dhabi in 2020

Enstone’s last titles came with Alonso in ’05 and ’06


“By the end of the era, this is what we want to accomplish. We don’t enter the field with the hope of doing well – we enter the field with the hope of winning.”

There is some logic to those bold ambitions, notably the budget cap, as mentioned previously.

That will ensure that development of the 2022 packages is being conducted on a level playing field, at least since the cap came into force on January 1. In theory Alpine has as much chance as anyone else of hitting the ground running with a good chassis package in 2022.

The other key is the engine freeze that starts next year and runs for three seasons until a new formula is introduced in 2025. Renault had a pretty competitive PU last year, and if the engine division enters the freeze on a solid footing level relative to its rivals, the team should be in good shape.

It’s worth noting that as of 2021 there are no Renault customers, with McLaren moving to Mercedes. The downside is a loss of benchmark for the works outfit, as well as the data that comes with having extra cars running – but that’s outweighed by Viry’s ability to now focus on the in-house team and its requirements.

Alonso, who turns 40 in July, will provide extra motivation from the cockpit. It didn’t work out at McLaren, but if he has a sniff of a quick car, he can be as competitive as ever.

His team mate Esteban Ocon was overshadowed by Daniel Ricciardo last year, but he is remains a guy with a lot of potential. If the Frenchman doesn’t get the job done there’s no shortage of candidates for 2022.

Rossi is adamant that F1 is the right place for the Alpine name to be.

“If you look at the brands around us, the teams we’re competing against, most of them are true sports brands,” he says.

“In that respect Alpine is already a sports brand, selling cars like the A110 now, and other models back then, that are all celebrated as efficient sportscars. Even off track, the Alpine brand is extremely legitimate in the current F1 universe.

“The Renault Group actually was a good name to have, but this year the Alpine name is even more legitimate in the current F1 circus.”

It will be intriguing to follow the progress of the marque off track as well as new models come on stream and it becomes better known around the world.

“What we will derive from F1 is obviously exposure,” says Rossi. “We already have a considerable media exposure, just added inherently to the F1 clout, if you will.

“And then on top of that we will also derive some of the technical expertise in the Alpine passenger car division, obviously the next frontier being the aerodynamics and the weight.

“Here again, leaning or actually building on top of the F1 expertise would be a considerable asset for the Alpine brand. We have more opportunities than challenges here.”