Could underdog Alpine be a shock contender at Le Mans?

Alpine Le Mans opinion lead
Alpine Le Mans opinion lead

Every morning, weary-eyed engineer Bruno Famin wakes up and decides to walk a tightrope so long that he’ll still be on it long after dinner time.

Previously the mastermind of victories at Le Mans and Dakar, plus Sébastien Loeb’s record-setting run at Pikes Peak, Famin was last year named as the new vice-president of Alpine Racing.

It’s his job to correct the course of a Formula 1 team that took six rounds to score a single point in 2024, as well as a nascent World Endurance Championship (WEC) programme. All while avoiding the slippages of blunt honesty that appeared to land his predecessor, Laurent Rossi, a sudden and unexpected promotion to the Renault Group’s “special projects”.


I spent time with Alpine at the 6 Hours of Spa last month in a bid to better understand what it’s doing to escape from the slump.

Its brand-new hypercar, the A424, was due its third outing, and there were big questions about its competitiveness. Lucky fuel savings yielded a strong eighth-place finish in its Qatar debut, but the second round at Imola was much more testing. Contact through the first turn, as well as problems dealing with the circuit’s high kerbs, led to results of 13th and 16th place.

I met Famin in a team tent nestled between La Source and Eau Rouge, shortly before qualifying kicked off. There was an apparent tension in the air, Alpine having placed eighth out of 19 hypercars in the final practice session – almost a full second ahead of the BMW behind. Was Qatar a fluke, or was there real pace in the A424?

Alpine A424 cornering at Spa-Francorchamps
Alpine A424 cornering at Spa-Francorchamps

Famin proved tough to read: almost totally expressionless, save for a slight crease in his brow. It seemed he was quietly calculating something – that, or he was bored halfway to death by the Belgian journalists he'd just been interviewed by.

“The start of the season is quite in line with what we expected,” he said. “Not an easy one: maybe the anomaly is much more Qatar than Imola, because Qatar went smoothly. It was a 10-hour race. We brought both cars to the finish line without any problems and scored points.

“[We have] to be careful: Qatar was not the normal life, then back to reality in Imola.”

So, if not to win, what’s the point of Alpine’s racing programmes? Famin suggested the real spoils are in getting the brand in front of prospective buyers.

Although the Alpine A110 is a wondrous car, it has struggled to build much traction since its launch six years ago. Annual sales peaked at 4376 in 2019. If Alpine is to launch a much broader line-up of electric cars, in brand-new markets such as the US, it must improve on that figure.

“What we want to gain in WEC is the same thing that we want to gain in Formula 1: brand awareness,” said Famin. “Alpine is racing because we want to develop brand awareness globally. That’s why we’re doing Formula 1 in one hand, WEC and Le Mans on the other hand, because they are two programmes known globally. Everywhere in the world, everyone knows about the 24 Hours of Le Mans; everyone knows about Formula 1.”

Alpine A424 approaching Eau Rouge at Spa-Francorchamps – rear
Alpine A424 approaching Eau Rouge at Spa-Francorchamps – rear

Which brings us neatly to the main event: given the clear importance of success at Le Mans, and Famin’s past glories, how confident was he feeling?

“The expectation of Le Mans is to win,” said Famin, before taking a long breath, “...but not this year.” Ah. It seems pessimism might still linger in the air at Alpine headquarters.

Famin elaborated: “It’s our first year and [Spa is] only our third race. Le Mans will be our [fourth]. We have a lot to learn, and we will take it in a humble way because the grid is super-strong.”

Alpine A424 at Le Mans – front
Alpine A424 at Le Mans – front

With that slightly sobering primer for the action, I stomped downhill to watch qualifying with low expectations. At which point, something unexpected happened: not only were the Alpines fairly quick, but they even edged a handful of Porsches, Ferraris and Toyotas. One even made it into the Hyperpole – think Q3 in Formula 1, if you’re unfamiliar – for the first time. It placed seventh, ahead of two Ferraris.

Come race day, it proved no fluke. The pace of the two Alpines was strong from the outset, if not quite on a par with the front-running Ferraris and Porsches. Several crashes compressed the six-hour marathon into a series of sprints, but the Alpines just about held onto their positions in the top half of the pack. After a properly harrowing crash and a two-hour extension to the race, the Alpine duo came home in ninth and 12th.

With that in mind, I wonder if Famin’s pessimism around Le Mans was perhaps misplaced. You could argue Alpine’s results at Qatar and Spa were buoyed by chaos, but is that not the nature of endurance racing? Even the tragically slow Peugeots looked in with a shot at Le Mans glory during last year’s rain – and showers are once again on the cards.

I’d also suggest that Alpine has an especially motivated pair of drivers in Ferdinand Habsburg and Mick Schumacher, each crewing the number 35 and 36 cars.

Alpine WEC team at Le Mans
Alpine WEC team at Le Mans

Habsburg – no, the name isn't coincidental: he really is a prince – suffered two fractured vertebrae in April, having crashed during a test at Spain’s Motorland Aragon. He missed Imola and Spa but now returns for the jewel in the crown of the WEC calendar. Habsburg is quoted by Sportscar365 as saying that he feels “really strong” ahead of his comeback, and the effort he's put into a return for Le Mans shows his desire for a successful run at the biggest race of the year. I wouldn't be surprised if that sheer wanting translates into strong pace.

Schumacher, meanwhile, is in with a shot at returning to F1 with Alpine. Esteban Ocon is vacating his seat at the end of this season, and Pierre Gasly is still in talks on a renewal, so there’s at least one open space.

Schumacher very clearly has his eyes (and heart) on it. He told me that he chose Alpine’s WEC programme over other teams because it’s the “closest to Formula 1”, pointing to Famin’s involvement in both series. But, given Schumacher’s previous F1 campaigns were hardly impressive, he almost certainly needs to do more to impress Alpine’s bigwigs.

What better place to impose your return to the top flight than Le Mans, with millions of eyes on the action? A good drive – even if it’s not a winning one – could bring the stock boost that Schumacher needs to make it back into single-seaters. Such pressure should help him to lock in mentally and prepare for one of the more taxing races he’ll have taken part in to date.

Alpine A424 testing at Le Mans – rear
Alpine A424 testing at Le Mans – rear

Now, none of this is to say I earnestly believe Alpine will take a comfortable win over the favourites, Porsche, Ferrari and Toyota. Balance of Performance regs all but guarantee it: the Alpines have the lowest power output of all the hypercars at Le Mans (680bhp), a real handicap on such a fast circuit. And there’s always going to be a reliability concern running a new car for so long without interruption.

Yet I wouldn’t completely count the squad out, like it seems Famin has.