If you like interesting cars, you might think Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi has one of the best jobs in the world. His company produces just one car, but that A110 is a memorable and unique sports car given complete room to breathe on its own as a standalone product. He also oversees a race-winning F1 program and an Le Mans program set to debut its first factory-backed LMDh hypercar in 2024. It is an exciting present, but, as a performance brand with big ambitions, Rossi sees an even more exciting future.
In a roundtable with American motorsports press, Rossi discussed some of those future goals. Could that include Alpines sold in America?
"We have the same goal in the U.S. as we have in Europe at the moment, to grow awareness. To simply have the brand known. Commercially, we have nothing yet in the U.S. simply because the brand is selling few cars, one model, in low figures, and it would not be viable economically to export that car outside of Europe anyway. It's more or less our playing field at the moment, and it's quite vast. There's a bit of time before we tap it out entirely.
"This car, the A110, is a great car, but we don't imagine it would make a big splash in the U.S. because it's a bit limited in its range of use. The idea would be more to graduate as a brand, using the A110, Formula 1, and tomorrow the LMDh. Max out the potential of the A110, prepare the future with the next round of cars, then we'll see.
"At that point, then we'll see these four, five, maybe six new cars. At that point, we might consider [entering the U.S.] It would be nice to have, it's not a must-have and it's not in our business plan at the moment. Renault has been in the U.S. three times. To go back, we need to make sure we do it well. We don't want to fumble, if we go back and are really competent we can do it, but we'll have time.
"I can't ignore the fact that the U.S. is 50% of the sports car market, I can't ignore that 50% of our profit pool is there."
With F1 growing in popularity within the U.S., its owners at Liberty Media have already added a race in Miami next season. Rossi sees even more opportunity to add races from there:
"In the U.S., I think it would make sense to have more races. And it's not just me, the almost-American guy. Given the size of the market, the propensity of the U.S. in particular to organize shows that give you way more than just the sport itself. Take football, where you have fun outside the stadium, or the NBA, where you have all that content before, after, and during the game. In the U.S., people know how to entertain and be entertained and they're willing to pay for more fun, more interaction, and more entertainment. That's good for the sport, it makes it more sustainable."
2021 is the first season of a cost cap rule in F1, but the season is being contested with cars carried over from an open development year in 2020. Next year will mark the first season of a wholly new car developed under an equal cost cap, but some teams still have the advantage of past infrastructure built during the open development era. While that creates an inherent advantage for the current elite teams, Rossi believes that the result will still be a significant net positive for the entire grid:
"We were fortunate that the cost cap landed at an average of what everyone was spending, which ends up at the level of the most average team at the moment, which is us. That works for us. The cost cap is going to help tremendously with the future of the sport, no doubt, but the money spent in the past ten years won't be canceled out right away. Those who have a better wind tunnel, a better sim, better CFD models, will still have those advantages. The difference is that they won't have the money to throw at problems as they used to, to have twice the amount to throw at problems like brainpower. We'll still get a chance, but there's always going to be a little bit of a difference.
"Maybe it'll change by 2030. Don't see that as an exact target, but maybe by 2030 it won't be a problem. But until then, it is always easier to be a Mercedes or a Red Bull, with better facilities than others. But, like I said, there's still going to be a cap, so you have to decide, whether you put it on super expensive resources put it on multiple smaller projects. You have to make the trade-off to spend the same money as others, which gives chances to more people. Teams like Williams, which have been around for so many years and have a lot of knowledge but perhaps never had the same amount of money, can potentially leverage their knowledge and savviness over the years, to compete for wins. And that's the same bet we're making. Tools might make a difference at the beginning, but that's going to help.
"I go back to this example. The costs are capped, the revenues are uncapped. You turn it into a franchise, you sustain it with a lot of show. That's good, instead of Mercedes winning every year, everyone is spending the same amount of money and no one is really losing their shirt. The nine others that don't win that year, it's okay. They're not going to be at risk of disappearing, so they can build for the medium to long term.
"You end up with what you have in American football, for instance. Anyone can win, not just the Giants. Even though I'm a Giants fan, that's pretty cool."
Alpine's next major project is a factory LMDh program at Le Mans, growing from an existing program racing an older LMP1 car. Rossi expanded on why that operation, which begins in 2024, is such a major commercial and competition step for Alpine:
"It's a bit of everything. What we like is Le Mans, the fact that it's bringing a different type of fans, and therefore customers, to our road cars.
"It's a connection not often made with Formula 1. We're going to make it with Formula 1, though, because we're going to bring the electric expertise from Formula 1 to future Alpines. It's already there, we're already embedding it in our future products that will be produced in '24, '25, '26. We do the same with aerodynamics. We're really going do that, export it from Formula 1 to the car. But sometimes people relate to other references.
"Le Mans is bringing you endurance, a whole different set of customers also because the cars are more similar. Some people identify more with the car they see on the screen that's what they want. We've been running a lot of races, it's a nice compliment to F1. Basically, F1 is the sprint in the Olympics, the endurance is the marathon. It's still the top sport, the athletics. We present both. It helps us expand our fanbase, not just customers. Le Mans helps us with this and creates synergy, because most cars will be electrified one way or another.
"Of course, both programs are also cost capped. That is something we suddenly can do. You were either doing Le Mans and it would cost 300, 400 million, or doing F1 for the same amount. That is expensive, and few, if any, manufacturers could do both. Now, with caps on both disciplines, it becomes way more attractive, and that's why you see plenty of OEMs, not just Ferrari but Porsche and Audi, going to Le Mans and still considering their options in F1. We might see more like us. It's exciting, the fact that Porsche and Audi are in LMDh is interesting. I like the idea of fighting toe to toe, neck to neck, with the cars we're fighting on the road. It's exciting."
While the business case for racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans is straightforward for a French performance brand, the argument for dipping a toe into IndyCar is a little different. Rossi's Formula 1 driver development program has recently helped place Christian Lundgaard with Rahal Letterman Lanigan in that series anyway. As Rossi explains, decisions like that benefit both the drivers in their development system and future ambitions:
"We have an academy, so it's always good to have more possibilities for the driver academy down the road. Sometimes we have drivers more suited to endurance than F1, and obviously, along the same lines of the first question, if we have 2-3 GPs in the US and on top of that can race in the US, at one point it is worth considering if IndyCar is viable. It helps on all accounts, it doesn't hurt.
"The objective with our academy is to ensure that our drivers one day get access to the pinnacle of motorsport. I consider IndyCar to be the pinnacle on the other side of the ocean, a different discipline but it's the pinnacle. If he wants to make the career there, he should make it. Of course, he's a member of the family one way or the other. He won't be affiliated with the academy, I think, but it's not like we don't care any more. Drivers are a member of our family. Fernando is the best example. We consider drivers our best ambassadors and assets. They can be useful in many ways, not just at the wheel. It's a success.
"There's not enough spots in F1 to keep a roster just in those available seats, so going to IndyCar is the next best thing. We are very glad he did it. If he's happy there, we're all happy. It's a testament to the fact that the academy was able to grow some good drivers and place them where they're very competitive. You see Grosjean, for instance, he's coming from F1 and he's an amazing driver, but he doesn't win all the races. [IndyCar is] super competitive. Christian getting a spot there is a good outcome for the beginning of a great career.
"I wouldn't want to give up on [our drivers.] We owe them a good future. This is what Renault and Alpine stand for, I believe in that. Whenever you part ways with someone, you do it in a good way and hope they do the best out there. It's almost like a teenager leaving the house."
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