Alpine has launched its new-for-2022 car, the A522. Last year, the team was one of the top teams in the mid-pack, finishing a strong fifth in the Formula 1 Constructors' Championship standings.
Here's a few reasons that the Alpine camp should be feeling optimist, along with a few speed bumps that could derail its 2022 season.
Reason to Be Optimistic
Alpine has been through various guises in its history, and its greatest success came against mightier manufacturers with Michael Schumacher in 1994-95, as Benetton, and Fernando Alonso in 2005-06, as Renault.
Apline is one of the teams that should regard the $140 million cost cap as an opportunity. It's not been a team that threw hundreds of millions of dollars per year at Formula 1, and the cap would appear to be the perfect tonic to close the gap to the sport's big three of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.
The discarding of team principal Marcin Budkowski, engine chief Remi Taffin and advisor Alain Prost, shows that team CEO Laurent Rossi is not afraid to make bold calls in a bid to lift Alpine. Being labeled Alpine, rather than Renault, also gives the Formula 1 team the chance to spearhead the sporting arm of the manufacturer, and a chance to grow a brand, rather than being one entity within a gigantic corporation. The recruitment of Otmar Szafnauer for the role of team principal was also a shrewd offseason call.
In Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, Alpine has an eye-catching partnership. Alonso was able to utilize 2021 as a season of re-learning following a two-year absence. Now 40 years old, Alonso says his desire for success remains undimmed. For years, he chastised Formula 1 for its rigid rules and lack of chances, but the rules reset provides mid-pack teams such as Alpine with the chance to be more of a factor on race day.
Ocon, too, is an asset. After years of treading water, he has a deal with Alpine through 2024 and has the luxury of long-term planning that such a contract affords. Last year’s shock Hungary win provided a huge boost, both personally and to Alpine, and the assurance that Ocon, 25, warrants his place among the top table. It also has a luxury problem: its reserve driver, Formula 2 champion Oscar Piastri, deserves a Formula 1 seat and it needs to find one for him in 2023.
Alpine is also set to finally introduce Renault’s long-awaited new power unit. The team has not made major revisions since the winter of 2018-19, having made minor reliability updates for 2020 before postponing its new specification until 2022 when the pandemic struck. Delivering a gain in performance and maintaining reliability is crucial ahead of the engine freeze.
Reasons to Be Pessimistic
The challenge for Alpine—and it is not unique in this regard—is whether it can transform itself from plucky midfielder to bona fide contender long-term. Formula 1 history is littered with more failed projects than successful ones. Indeed, it is the very same entity that had a loose five-year plan to emerge as title contenders upon Renault’s full-scale return in 2016. That clearly did not materialize as once it recaptured its midfield status in 2017 that is where it remained, stuck facing a competitive chasm to the big boys.
The recent restructuring of senior personnel also suggests short-term success is not expected. A new management team will take time to gel, while it is too soon to deduce whether CEO Rossi, whose first direct F1 role came in 2021 has made correct changes or has overreached in a bid to flex his authority.
Such concern must also surround the power unit. While finally being introduced Renault has always had a shortfall in this department. Will it get right what it has not fully cracked since 2014? The absence of a customer team can also be a hindrance. While too many clients can detract from the task at hand (and it has experience in this), the opposite effect can leave it fighting alone, with less data to work through, and no business partner so to speak.
One the driver side, there are no glaring weaknesses, but Alonso is now Formula 1’s elder statesman. Only one driver in the last five decades—Nigel Mansell in 1994—has won a Grand Prix in their 40s. The last driver to win a title at such an age was Sir Jack Brabham, back in 1966.
If Alpine fails to show serious potential, will Alonso have the incentive to stick around for 2023? Ocon, while highly rated in the Mercedes stable and spent most of his career in the midfield, and has to prove he can deliver with top-level machinery.
What We Expect
For a team that has finished fifth in the Constructors' Championship standings four times in five years, there is an easy conclusion to draw. Alonso and Ocon are both capable of more of the same in 2022.