MPH: Alonso’s F1 success and US funding rumours - why did Alpine boss attack team?


Laurent Rossi has not hidden his disappointment in Alpine's start to the 2023 season - Mark Hughes has a possible reason why

Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi


Interesting times at Alpine after company boss Laurent Rossi last weekend ripped into his own team, calling their performances “amateur” and “dilletante”.

Rossi is the CEO of the Alpine brand within Renault, which includes the F1 team. He is not full time on the F1 team but it is very much within his remit and he’s clearly not satisfied with its performances. Rossi in turn reports to Renault CEO Luca de Meo who is perhaps putting some pressure on Rossi. Both men appear at only a few grands prix each season but in Miami both were present.

At much the same time there were rumours that part of the team may be sold to a major American dealership network.

Now it may just be that Canal+ – with which Rossi did the interview in question – got lucky and happened to catch him when he was ready to unload about the shortcomings of the team. Certainly it came out of the blue for everyone at the team. More likely, given that he doesn’t give the impression of someone so impulsive, is that this was a planned strategical attack, designed to shake things up and give visibility to the problems ahead of Rossi taking whatever remedial action he sees as appropriate.

Team principal Otmar Szafnauer – who only joined the team last year, with Rossi claiming he was, “One of the hires I’m most proud of,” – appeared to be the prime target of the Alpine boss’s ire and it’s not easy to see him surviving this onslaught.


Szafnauer with Rossi in 2022

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Otmar has a laid-back sort of manner about him and that’s probably not helpful to his cause in this situation. It might give Rossi the impression he doesn’t share his urgency to get the team performing. Or that may just be a convenient picture for Rossi to paint if he and de Meo are negotiating terms of the buy-in from the American company. If they wished to convince the buyer that it wasn’t buying into a team on the decline but instead one with great underlying qualities which was just suffering a hiccup because someone (Szafnauer) wasn’t doing the job, it would be useful to paint the picture in public first, setting it up for the remedial action to be taken.

This is pure speculation but is consistent with the timing of the sale rumours and the presence of both Rossi and de Meo in Miami.

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Alpine, in its own internal plan of its progress, was targeting repeating last year’s fourth place in the constructors championship, “but a closer fourth” at the car’s launch, as part of its ‘1,000 day plan’ to return to the top. Such plans sound good in corporate boardrooms, as they give the board the impression that something is being done, that things are in hand to maximise the value of the investment.

Invariably there is pressure on the individuals who approved of the investments and that pressure gets passed down the line.

A major part of the valuation of an F1 team, especially in the expansionist Liberty era, is its position in the constructors’ championship, as that determines the prize money. In theory, in the cost cap era it should be possible to balance the investment needed to make a competitive team with the income resulting from being competitive. But there’s a big capital expenditure – much of it exempt from the cost cap – necessary to get to that level. At a corporate level Alpine has been making what it sees as the investment but not seeing any evidence of the reward. Selling a minority share of the team would give it a useful chunk to continue with the required investment and thereby take the pressure off those – de Meo, Rossi – leading the F1 programme.

Laurent Rossi Alpine

Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi speaks to press


Having the team suddenly underperform at the most inconvenient time possible means that the pressure will travel down the line – and it seems as if it has reached Szafnauer.

It’s true the team has been a bit of a shambles operationally at two races this year – Bahrain and Baku – but this is unrelated to its general competitiveness, which is not so different from last year at around 1sec off the front and somewhere in the upper midfield. The real problem, and one which is mounting the pressure on the bosses, is that what is possible has been recalibrated by the progress of Aston Martin into 2023. From the lower midfield, significantly behind Alpine, it has suddenly produced arguably the second-fastest car and sits in second place in the constructors’ championship. That it should be getting this success with the driver Rossi let go is just an added irritation.

It is going to take some real managerial skill and vision to keep this spinning soft clay pot of a campaign from collapsing entirely. What that might look like is unknowable.