The Alpine F1 engine gamble

The Formula One 2022 season was one of huge change for a number of reasons. Firstly there was the biggest shift in aero regulation in living memory but under the radar somewhat was the F1 power unit restrictions. The turbo hybrid power unit designs were frozen from the beginning of the season until the planned overhaul of F1 power units set to be introduced for the 2026 season.

However, in Formula One speak sometimes things are not what they appear. Whilst frozen would appear to imply no change for the prescribed period this is not in fact the case.




Alpine gamble on power unit design

The FIA freeze on F1 power units mens the architecture or indeed the layout of the various teams’ power units are frozen however sub components that suffer unreliability will receive approval from the FIA for redesign so long as the goal and result is only to fix reliability issues.

This meant two power unit manufacturers win particular took big risks in the final architecture designs with a view to producing as much power as possible. This of course meant they suffered reliability issues more than the rest.

After the first three races it appeared Red Bull Racing were going to be the team suffering power unit reliability all season long, however the Honda designed power unit along with Mercedes proved to be one of the more reliable by the end of the year.



Ferrari headline engine failures

It was Ferrari who headlined in the engine unreliability stakes mostly because they were in a head to head race for both championships with Red Bull Racing. Engine failures for Charles LeClerc while leading in Barcelona and then a double Ferrari power unit DNF shortly after in Baku appeared to be significant in turning the tide against the Italian team.

However, Alpine had also taken huge risks with their final and frozen engine architecture design and Fernando Alonso was to suffer the consequences more than his team mate Ocon in the early part of the year.

The water pump design proved to be the Renault Sport power unit’s first major problem. Alonso retired at the second event of the season in Saudi. The result was a complete power unit replacement for just round three of the year.



Alpine pushed for time

Bruno Famin who overseas the Renault facility in Very where the power unit is designed and produced admitted the push for performance meant the huge overhaul of the 2021 power unit design meant the design was signed off late. This cut short the regular validation period which meant the reliability of certain components was unknown.

However the end os season conclusion from Very is that there were no “major issues” with the power unit but merely persistent problems with ancillary components like the water pump with failed again for Fernando at the Italian GP.

Team principal Otma Szafnauer concluded at the end of the season, “We should have a more reliable powertrain next year, even though some of the issues we had were really with the powertrain, there were the ancillary bits.

“But we have to redesign those and fix it.”



Calculated gamble by Alpine

The reason Alpine could not solve the issues of the fuel pump and the water pump in season was the redesign was too complicated and time consuming and would again be compromised by the lack of validation time scale.

“We are already working deeply on details, especially on the auxiliary side,” said Famin.

“The water pump has been a headache all season long for us, and we improved it as much as we could in 2022. But it was clearly not enough.

“It was the concept itself of the water pump we had to change and we are going to change it for ’23. And then we really hope that the problem will be solved for next year.

“But we are pushing our validation processes and trying to improve it, trying to do it in the best possible way, in a much better way than we have done for ’22.

“If we have not done it fully in ’22 it was not because we did not want to, it is because we prefer to push on the development side.

“I know that the target for ’23 is to keep the same level of performance for sure and to make everything reliable.”



New Renault power unit is competitive

Alpine’s Technical director Matt Harman is extremely positive about the planned revisions for 2023 and believes the team took the right approach with the impending F1 power unit architecture design freeze impending.

“It’s been well documented that we took a bit more risk,” said Harman.

“And it’s borne fruit, we now have a competitive package in that area and it allows us to compete.”

Indeed Fernando Alonso was pushing for pole position in Australia when hydraulic failure caused him to have an off and the Alpine failed to fulfil its shock destiny in Melbourne. 

“It’s just about getting through these problems. We’ve got a very strong recourse process that we follow quite carefully,” adds Harman.

“We don’t want to have problems, but we need to get to the root cause of them quickly, and then not have them again.

“I think, as a team, we’re getting very strong at that.



Reliability improvements epected for 2023

“I’m expecting to see a completely different profile to our reliability next year.”

Alpine did finish 4th in the constructors’ championship despite the herculean efforts of McLaren’s Lando Norris to pip them to the position.

Fernando Alonso provided some context to the reliability cost he suffered making reference to losing some “60 points” in 2022 following disappointment again in Mexico.

READ MORE: Return to F1: Ford speaks out

One response to “The Alpine F1 engine gamble

  1. Renault doesn’t have a facility in Very. 🙂
    It is located in Viry-Châtillon, or short Viry.

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