Why Alpine is enduring a dismal start to the season


Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly experienced a poor weekend in Bahrain: finishing 19th and 20th in qualifying and 17th and 18th in the race.

The new Alpine A524 was not a hoped-for step forward and the realisation of the challenge facing the team was perhaps bigger than expected after the testing.

Even Haas, Stake and Williams were faster than Alpine, who had finished comfortably ahead in the 2023 Constructors’ standings. So what has led to the rapid downfall?

Administrative turmoil

We first go back to last season as current developments are a result of administrative turmoil surrounding last year’s Belgian Grand Prix. CEO Laurent Rossi, team principal Otmar Szafnauer and sporting director Alan Permane were fired out of the blue, while chief technical officer Pat Fry resigned for a post at Willians.

Speaking after qualifying in Bahrain last weekend, Szafnauer was damning: “The stopwatch doesn’t lie and it doesn’t look very competitive. I understand how it comes about. Part of me thinks it’s justified after people at the highest level have made some not-so-good decisions.”

To make matters worse, the key people who developed the A524, among others, are now stepping down. Indeed, RacingNews365 was able to reveal that technical director Matt Harman and head of aerodynamics Dirk de Beer resigned a few weeks ago and are currently serving out their notice periods.

Unrest causes mediocre performance

For that matter, there is some truth in Szafnauer’s words. When people are constantly leaving, there is no reasonable stability in the development of the team and the car. Therein lies the problem: Harman and De Beer were currently the leaders in the development of the A524. Now that they are leaving, other people have to take the lead again.

They will be replaced – and the vicious circle begins again.

The car itself is a radical new concept, but has failed to deliver, with Harman saying at the launch that everything had changed, except perhaps the steering wheel.

One major problem is the Renault power unit.

Under the terms of the engine freeze, teams are not allowed to further develop the engines in terms of performance. Reliability upgrades, that could coax extra power, are permitted but big work is not.

Alpine has become a “victim” of this, as the Renault engine is well down on horsepower compared to that of the other PU suppliers.

Alpine tried to get an exemption in 2023 to make performance changes – but it failed. It will not be allowed to improve its power unit, in terms of pure performance until 2026.


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Weight and downforce

A strong chassis is then a requirement when the power unit is lacking but so far that has not been the case either.

The A524 is too heavy, although Gasly downplayed that problem after the dramatic qualifying session: “It’s not as bad as is stated. It is clear that we can gain speed everywhere and if you look at the differences between us, all improvements are important. Two kg equals 0.06secs and in this field, 0.06s make the difference. Some weight needs to come off and our chassis needs improvement, but upgrades are coming.”

Failed crash tests meant certain areas of the chassis had to be beefed up to pass, putting it about 10 or 11kg overweight.

The team has now announced a big raft of technical changes to its leadership – including a new three-headed approach at Enstone, similar to McLaren.

Will these prove to be a difference? Rapid change is needed to ensure Alpine doesn’t endure a chastening season.

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