As the Formula 1 summer break commences, speculations about potential driver movements are already making headlines. Reports from Italian media suggest that Alpine may be eyeing a surprise move to secure the services of a driver who could be available for contract negotiations in the near future.
With recent events occurring at Alpine, it appears that a wholesale change has been planned for the French outfit. The sacking of key staff in Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi, team principal Otmar Szafnauer, technical director Pat Fry, and sporting director Alan Permane within just weeks, the axe has fallen on what is considered an underperforming team by Renault chief Luca de Meo.
Ex-chief hits out at Renault Alpine
Cyril Abiteboul, the former head of Renault F1, is probably the most qualified person to understand the situation at Alpine, and the Frenchman, dismissed on the eveof the 2021 season in favour of Laurent Rossi, doesn’t pull any punches when asked about the team’s recent news.
The Frenchman has spoken about the eventful weekend behind the scenes at his former team.
“This reflects dissatisfaction with the results and very probably a loss of patience on the part of the Renault group’s management committee. As well as impatience, there may also have been a bit of arrogance at the start of the season, or an excess of confidence,” says Abiteboul, a consultant for France Info.
“When you don’t face up to reality, after a while you can tell yourself stories. It’s not out of the question that the story we were telling ourselves internally was too flattering. But Alpine isn’t that far away either.
“The times can sometimes be good, or even very good, at other times much less good. But Alpine isn’t the only one in this situation. The variations in competitiveness are for everyone this season, apart from Red Bull, who have such an advantage that they manage to get out of every situation, even messy ones.”
Alpine has thrown away a lot of points
The Frenchman highly critical of his former team, says that they continuously operate ‘a notch below’.
“Alpine is the opposite, they’re always a notch below. Sometimes it’s their fault, sometimes it’s not. They lost a lot of points, which put them 6th in the constructors’ championship, a long way from their stated objectives.
“The car’s competitiveness at the start of the season was below par, and they haven’t had the kind of miraculous evolution that other teams have had: McLaren recently, Mercedes, Ferrari and Aston Martin at the start of the season. Alpine hasn’t pulled the card that would get them out of the swamp.”
Failed plans by Alpine
As soon as he took over at the helm of Alpine in 2021, the new sacked CEO Laurent Rossi unveiled a plan to challenge for the world title after 100 races. This plan was recently revised upwards by Rossi himself, who admitted a few weeks ago before his ousting that Alpine might need a little more time to achieve Formula 1 victories.
For Cyril Abiteboul, Laurent Rossi was wrong from the outset with his 100-race plan, not least because in Formula 1 it’s very difficult to control what the competition is doing:
“Plans to quantify 100 Grands Prix, why not 120, why not 80… I don’t understand them,” added Abiteboul.
Rumour: Alpine big new signings
It appears that Luca de Meo has given his Alpine team a big shake-up in order to address the problems highlighted by Abiteboul.
The sacking of key staff will need replacing with competent alternatives and with recent rumours emerging that Charles Leclerc has signed a contract extension with Ferrari, the French outfit could make a move to secure a new driver from the Italians as a result.
Although neither the Scuderia nor the Monegasque driver have officially confirmed the deal, reports suggest that Leclerc’s new contract is rumoured to be a “2+3” deal, which means he would be committed for two confirmed years, with the option for an additional three years.
With such a long-term deal in place, speculation has arisen regarding his teammate Carlos Sainz’s future.
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Carlos Sainz, whose contract with Ferrari runs until the end of 2024, is reportedly seeking similar contract conditions as Leclerc. Italian media outlet Funo Analisi Tecnica claims that negotiations are ongoing, and Carlos Sainz Sr., the experienced motorsport figure and father of the driver, is reportedly exploring alternative options should the talks with Ferrari not meet their expectations.
One of the potential options for Sainz is Alpine. The report suggests that Alpine is undergoing significant changes in its top-level staff, and both Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly will have to renegotiate their contracts in 2024. This opens the possibility for one or both of them to be replaced, creating a potential opportunity for Sainz to join the French team.
“The French team has every intention of ‘maturing’ and, to do so, they may have identified a driver as fast, reliable, and with as much desire to find his own dimension as the Madrileno [Sainz],” claims the report.
“A space that in Ferrari, on its precise conditions (equal treatment) – with Leclerc present – he is unlikely to ever have.”
Binotto targetted as team boss
Furthermore, adding fuel to the speculations, there are suggestions that Mattia Binotto, who was previously with Ferrari, could be a target for the Renault Group to take over the ousted Otmar Szafnauer’s position at Alpine. With Alpine currently under the temporary leadership of Bruno Famin, the vice-president of motorsport, a long-term strategy is needed, and Binotto, a free agent with extensive team leadership experience, could be a suitable candidate.
Sainz and Binotto have a prior working relationship, as Sainz was signed by Binotto to Ferrari in 2020 and began his tenure with the team in 2021.
While these rumors have stirred up excitement among fans, Famin has downplayed the possibility of a hasty move to sign Binotto, emphasizing that they are still evaluating their options.
“We are not at that stage,” Famin stated. “I’m going to, with all my direct reports, assess what the situation is. Think about what are the priorities set in stone to consolidate and we will define if we need a new structure or not and when that will be done.”