Alpine announced the arrival of Otmar Szafnauer as team principal on Thursday which revealed one of the sport’s biggest open-secrets in recent months.
The former Aston Martin leader – Szafnauer led the team through iterations such as Force India and Racing Point beforehand – had previously called speculation linking him to Enstone as “speculative conjecture” before leaving following an average 2021 campaign in Silverstone.
And now the appointment is confirmed, what can we expect to see from Alpine now they have a new race director at the helm?
“BWT Alpine F1 Team is delighted to announce the appointment of Otmar Szafnauer to the role of Team Principal and Bruno Famin as Executive Director of Alpine Racing in Viry-Châtillon, both reporting to Laurent Rossi, CEO of Alpine. As detailed in November 2021, this new organization is set to optimize the team’s performance as it prepares for the new technical regulations introduced from 2022. The arrival of two highly experienced and recognized motorsports professionals confirms BWT Alpine F1 Team’s ambition, defined by Luca de Meo, CEO of the Renault Group, and Laurent Rossi, to fight for the championship within 100 races of the introduction of the new regulations.
“As Team Principal, Otmar Szafnauer will lead BWT Alpine F1 Team in Enstone and at the races over the season. Otmar is one of the most talented and respected Formula 1 managers and will bring his 33 years of experience in motorsport to the team. His objective will be to manage BWT Alpine F1 Team in consistently delivering all aspects of Alpine’s performance including engineering and race management. Otmar will also help the team get the best out of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso’s talents.
“After beginning his career as an engineer with Ford Motor Company, Otmar arrived in F1 in 1998 with British American Racing as Operations Director before joining Honda as Vice President of its F1 programme. He has consistently proved his talent to fully exploit a team’s potential during his different tenures. At Force India, he led the team from last in the Constructors’ Championship to a solid fourth position, despite having the lowest budget and number of employees in the paddock. He also led Racing Point to their first win and fourth position in the Constructors’ Championship in only their second season, and Aston Martin to their first-ever podium in F1.”
Over-performance on a low budget
As Force India especially, Szafnauer guided his team to inspiring positions considering the comparatively lower budget his team was on.
Between 2013 and 2017 the team finished no lower than sixth in the constructors’ standings, and in 2016 and 2017 even came fourth which would be enough to be considered the ‘best of the rest’ (behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull).
In 2020 the team, then known as Racing Point with its iconic pink livery thanks to a familiar BWT sponsorship, were ‘best of the rest’ once again but this was not replicated the following year.
Like in 2019, the team came 7th in 2021 owing to a transitional year and institutional reform behind the scenes like the arrival of Martin Whitmarsh as Group Chief Executive Officer with dreams of championship capabilities.
And Szafnauer is no stranger to Alpine driver, Esteban Ocon, having managed the French racer from 2017 at Force India until he was replaced in 2019 by Lance Stroll once the team was bought by his father, Lawrence Stroll the year before.
When questioned about the Alpine links in November, Szafnauer said: “I’ve been loyal to this team – I’ve had many, many offers in the 12 years I’ve been working for this team, especially in the days of the bankruptcy and insolvency. I could have left many times but I’m loyal to the employees there.”
“The season hasn’t gone quite to what we thought it was going to go,” he later added, “and we’ve got to focus on these next few races to score as many points as we can and that’s what we’ll do.”
The new regulations give all teams a fresh start and Szafnauer must be hoping that his experience guiding teams on the track into comfortable positions over many years on a tight budget would appeal to Alpine’s abilities.
After all, Renault are one of four engine manufacturers (along with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull) and knowingly do not have a budget that can rival the greatest teams immediately, even with a cost cap set to be in place for the year ahead.
Alpine won in Hungary in 2021 and if the team want to be competing for championships within 100 races as their official statement claimed – and for the record have done many times over the years to little avail – Szafnauer needs to hit the ground running.
It is down to Ocon and Fernando Alonso to prove themselves, not least so if Alonso chooses to retire at the end of this season. His contract expires at the end of the season and unprecedented prodigy, Oscar Piastri, is waiting in the wings for a seat at Alpine or elsewhere for 2023.
Either way it proves to be an exciting appointment. With additional reform behind the scenes such as the appointment of Bruno Famin on the engine side and a new position for Davide Brivio supporting projects outside of F1 like the Alpine Academy, this might shape up to be an exciting year.
Here’s to hoping the engine is reliable…