The sudden departure of Otmar Szafnauer from Alpine left some members of the Formula One community in shock, but the former team principal has shed light on the exact reason behind his exit. Speaking about his departure from the French team, Szafnauer revealed that a disagreement over the team’s progress timeline ultimately led to his dismissal.
The announcement of Szafnauer’s departure, along with the long-serving sporting director Alan Permane, was made just before the Belgian Grand Prix, catching many by surprise. The team stated that the decision was “mutually” agreed upon, but Szafnauer’s explanation now provides more insight into the situation.
Fernando Alonso gives his opinion of Szafnauer
Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso recently broke his silence on his time at Alpine before Szafnauer joined this year from Aston Martin, the Silverstone-based team Alonso will join in 2023.
While Alonso was committed to staying with Alpine, things took a turn when the team hired Otmar Szafnauer, formerly from Aston Martin, as the new American team principal in the 2022 season. Alonso sought a new two-year deal for 2023-2024, but it appears that Szafnauer was more interested in focusing on academy driver Oscar Piastri.
Alonso: Szafnauer had a ‘Lack of commitment to me’
Alonso believed that the team was no longer committed to him, and tensions escalated further with Szafnauer’s recent sacking following two double DNFs (Did Not Finish) for Alpine’s cars in Austria and Silverstone.
Alonso expressed frustration with the slow pace of discussions regarding his contract extension, particularly as he felt he was ready and content with the team’s performance. He criticized the team’s management for their comments about his age and the lack of concrete action on the negotiations.
The failure to retain either Alonso or Piastri left Alpine’s management facing criticism for their handling of the situation. Adding to the confusion, the team announced that Piastri would be driving for them in 2023, only for the young Australian driver to refute the news on Twitter a short while later.
Alonso: Szafnauer needs to ‘be quiet’
Alonso condemned Szafnauer’s behavior, urging him to “be quiet” and suggesting that he should not speak publicly after Aston Martin sacked him and recruited Mike Krack. Since Alonso’s arrival at Aston Martin, the team’s performance has improved dramatically, further adding to the controversy surrounding Alpine’s decisions.
“…he should be quiet. He should not talk at all. After the results of Aston Martin and the results he’s achieving, he’s still talking and still proud of the decision, which is incredible, amazing.” said Alonso.
Szafnauer, however, has implied that his groundwork during his tenure contributed to Aston Martin’s current success.
Exact disagreement with Renault revealed by Szafnauer
In an interview with Speed City Broadcasting, Szafnauer disclosed that the disagreement centered around the time it takes to effect change in Formula One. He explained that with only two drivers but nearly a thousand technicians, engineers, and aerodynamicists, transforming a team’s culture is a gradual process. However, Renault’s bosses wanted quicker results, and that is where the difference in opinion arose.
“It was definitely mutual,” Szafnauer confirmed.
“I laid out the timelines as to how long it takes in F1 to effect change… The timeline wasn’t accepted by the bosses of Renault — they wanted it quicker and that’s what we disagreed upon. So, yeah, mutual.”
The timing and wording of the announcement also drew attention, as Szafnauer was asked to remain in his role until the conclusion of the events in Spa before officially departing. Despite the unexpected turn of events, Szafnauer remained composed and respectful in his explanation.
Future plans for Szafnauer?
Regarding his future plans in Formula One, Szafnauer’s Alpine contract prevents him from joining a rival team for a year. However, he clarified that the contractual restrictions do not bar him from the sport altogether. He expressed his desire to continue contributing to the sport and achieving more milestones.
“I haven’t achieved everything I want to achieve,” Szafnauer stated.
“I was hoping to build a really high-performing team here — I was well on my way to doing it, it’s just unfortunate that all the good people are locked into long-term contracts, and they’re all coming in ’24 and ’25. Hopefully, they’ll still come, but that’s for them to decide now.”
As Alpine continues with its ambitious 100-race plan to contend for world championships, Szafnauer’s departure has raised questions about the team’s direction and the impact on their performance. Currently placed sixth in the World Constructors’ standings after three years into ‘the plan’, the team faces the challenge of maintaining momentum despite the huge senior staff changes made by the team.