Szafnauer critical of Alpine's 'lack of understanding' of F1

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Former Alpine F1 team boss Otmar Szafnauer says the French outfit's top brass lacks patience and "definitely has no understanding" on how to build a successful team in Formula 1.

Szafnauer and Alpine parted ways after the Belgian Grand Prix after it was decided that the two parties were "not on the same timeline" regarding the Enstone squad's path to success.

Along with the ousting of the outfit's long standing sporting director Alan Permane and the exit of chief technical officer Pat Fry, the changes were the latest installment in a management shake-up that had started earlier this summer when Renault Group chief Luca de Meo opted to replace Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi with Philippe Krief.

Szafnauer's tenure with Alpine only lasted 34 races, or about one-third of Alpine's self-proclaimed 100-race plan to reach the front of the grid in F1.

The American was committed to Alpine's long-term objective and managed the team accordingly, armed with his experience and knowledge, holding steady despite the outfit's underperformance this season.

But impatience eventually kicked in at Renault.

Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo

"I think the senior management at Renault, the CEO, Luca de Meo, wants - as everyone does in Formula 1 - wants success instantly and unfortunately, that’s not how it works," Szafnauer explained in an interview with SiriusXM.

"I pointed out to him that it takes time and the process of doing it, what’s required, and having raced for 34 years and 26 years of it in Formula 1, I think I speak with a degree of experience when I say this is what it takes to turn a team around.

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"They wanted to do it faster than is possible and I just, you know, I couldn’t agree to an unrealistic timeline because if you do that, it’s only a matter of time and everyone gets frustrated, so I laid out a very realistic and possible plan and I think they wanted to shortcut that plan with somebody else.

"So, the runway that was afforded me, and this is in the press everywhere, was a hundred races and I think I got 33, 34 into it," he added.

"I mean, I know we’re racing a little bit more than 20 now, whatever it is, 24, so it’s between four and five years and I thought that’s long enough. That is long enough to get the right people in place."

In addition to managing Alpine's day-to-day affairs, Szafnauer's responsibilities extended to shaping the outfit's future, which meant investing a lot of time in ground work to understand the team's requirement and then identifying and selecting future recruits who would strengthen its foundation and organization.

"You need about six months, six to nine months to understand what’s really required," Szafnauer continued.

"The skill sets that you have, what you’re lacking, and then aggressively start recruiting, and I think I aggressively started recruiting at Alpine three months into it.

"They already had a plan called the Mountain Climber, which they recognized that they needed to recruit in some areas, and then I started helping with that.

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"I mean, after 26 years in the business, you know some of the people at other teams that are capable and competent, and then you go after them.

"You know, some I was successful in getting them to leave their teams and come, and there are others that I talked to quite a bit where they, you know, they said, ‘No, I like it here at Red Bull’, for example, and, ‘I’ve got opportunities in the future and I’m gonna stick it out here’.

"So, I wasn’t a hundred per cent successful in recruiting the people that were required, but I had more than one on the list for each one of the jobs, so if the number one fellow said, ‘No, I’d rather not come’, I’d go to the number two guy and that’s what I was doing, and half about eight, six to eight, two have started already and another six to come signed up and, you know, that’s what it takes really."

Otmar Szafnauer (USA) Alpine F1 Team, Team Principal (Left) and Laurent Rossi (FRA) Alpine Chief Executive Officer (Right). 05.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Szafnauer detailed the undertaking associated with building up a successful team in F1, highlighting the duration of the process but also, in Alpine's case, the lack of experienced and skilled personnel in many of the team's departments.

"So, there’s a couple things you have to do, and I don’t want to give away, you know, the things I know, but there’s a few things you must do in any business is if you want to turn things around, one, you have to have a deep understanding of what you have in the first place," he said.

"So, take a good look, understand what you have deeply understand what’s good and understand what needs changing or what needs, sometimes it doesn’t even need change, it just needs enhancing.

"You know, there could be skill sets that are not there at all. It’s not that there’s skillset that aren’t good enough, they just don’t exist and that’s exactly what I found at Alpine.

"There are pockets of the organization that, you know, the skill level is at a very elementary level and that’s because the people they have there were college graduates, for example, as opposed to somebody with 25 years of knowledge and it was in those areas that I started to recruit, but the best in Formula One are usually on long-term contracts.

"You know, at least three years and to get them to change, you know, I always say if you go to an engineer that you know or an aerodynamicist that you know at Red Bull and say, ‘Hey, come here and work at Alpine’.

"Well, they’re winning world championships, winning races. What is so compelling to make them say, ‘You know what? I want to stop winning races at Red Bull and come join you at Alpine’.

"There’s got to be a compelling reason to do so and I was able to convince quite a few people in areas that we needed to bolster, but unfortunately they were to come some in the autumn of ’23, most of them mid ’24 and some of them in 2025.

But despite his best efforts, Szafnauer says he was unable to convince Renault and Alpine's top brass to exert patience while the team remained a work in progress.

"That's what I try to explain that, you know, look, it’s happening, it’s coming and sometimes, you know, you take a half step backwards to take two forward and they just didn’t have - I don’t know, they didn’t have that understanding.

"Either it was impatience or it was emotion, but definitely no understanding and unfortunately, you know, that’s what it takes and that’s what they’ll find.

"They wanted it quicker, but not through me."

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