Alpine's avalanche: Last one to leave turns off the lights

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold

It seemed clear that there was now a major rift between the corporate side, represented by Rossi, and the race team, with Szafnauer and Permane. It came to a head in July.

Just days after appearing at an event discussing the company's future plans for Alpine alongside Groupe Renault CEO Luca de Meo, Rossi was suddenly moved sideways to special operations.

Had Renault finally made a choice to trust the race team bosses to know what to do? No. A double DNF in Hungary followed (due to a first lap racing incident, and not the fault of the team or the drivers) and that was to be the final straw for the Renault board.

According to sources close to F1i, de Meo demanded Permane's resignation just days after Hungary. Szafnauer stepped in to defend Permane, saying that the sporting director - who has been taking the lead in Alpine's crucial work convincing the F1 Commission to approve an engine equalisation clause to boost the underpowered Renault unit - had done nothing wrong and that, in essence, if Permane was out, so was he.

And de Meo agreed on both counts, with Pat Fry's airlift to Williams just happening to coincide with the spectacular public meltdown.

The reason given for last Friday's bizarrely-timed schism was that Szafnauer and Permane were 'not on the same timeline' as their corporate masters and were failing to deliver on Rossi's cherished but ill-advised "100 race plan" proclamation at the end of 2021 to return the team to the top, which now hand-ties everything the squad does.

This was explained in Friday's presser by a rather unengaging Bruno Famin, the man in charge of Renault's engine department at Viry Chatillon, who had been given the title of vice president of Alpine Motorsport managing the brand's motorsport activities after Rossi's exit, and who has been drafted in as the F1 team's interim team principal.

The sudden success of Aston Martin and McLaren in 2023 was another stick with which to beat the team over the head: if their rivals could manage it, why couldn't Alpine?

From such a remove, the board couldn't see that it had taken Zak Brown and Laurence Stroll several years of commitment, work and investment in people and infrastructure to pull off their respective "overnight successes" - the very things that Renault has been chronically allergic to providing in the last decade.

Or as Szafnauer colourfully phrased it: "As I always say, you can’t get nine women pregnant and hope you have a baby in a month!"