Site logo

Alpine bosses lacked patience and understanding, says Szafnauer


Former Alpine team principal, Otmar Szafnauer has hit out at the French manufacturer's top bosses, claiming they lack patience and understanding.

The Romanian-American was fired as the Belgian Grand Prix weekend got underway, along with sporting director, Alan Permane, while technical boss, Pat Fry jumped ship to Williams.

Renault has never fully made the most of its success in F1, either as a team or engine manufacturer, and to further confuse the situation the French company opted for a name change in order to promote its relatively little known Alpine brand.

At the outset, a grand plan was announced whereby the team targeted challenging for championship success within a certain timeframe, but it soon became clear that this was unachievable.

Last year's fiasco which saw the French outfit lose Fernando Alonso and Oscar Piastri gave a clear hint as to the problems within the team which have only worsened this year, not helped by public criticism of the team by CEO Laurent Rossi which resulted in the obligatory management reshuffle.

Just 34 races into the 100 by which time Alpine intended to be battling the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, the French team opted to fire Szafnauer, who has now responded.

"I think the senior management at Renault, the CEO, Luca de Meo, wants, as everyone does in Formula 1, wants success instantly," he tells SiriusXM, "and unfortunately, that's not how it works in Formula 1.

"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.

"They wanted to do it faster than is possible," he explains, "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."

Szafnauer, who joined Ford in 1986 as a programmes manager, subsequently got into racing, taking part in Formula Ford in the US before joining British American Racing in 1998 as Operations Director. He subsequently joined Honda when the Japanese manufacturer bought the Brackley outfit, rising to the position of Vice President of Honda Racing Developments and a member of the management board of the F1 team.

In 2009 he joined Force India, overseeing the former Jordan outfit's rise through the ranks until it was bought by Lawrence Stroll in 2019 and became Racing Point. Under his watch the team continued to impress and it was no surprise when Szafnauer was named team principal as it morphed into Aston Martin in 2021. However, just a year later he left to join Alpine.

Despite the French team's trajectory, in a bid to get it to the front end of the grid, the Romanian-American believed the best tactic was to 'ease off' this season, reorganize behind the scenes, and come back stronger in 2024.

"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," he says. "One, you have to have a deep understanding of what you have in the first place. 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 1 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, and 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," he says, "but definitely no understanding and unfortunately, you know, that's what it takes and that's what they'll find and they wanted it quicker, but not through me."

The 100 race grand plan roughly equated to five seasons, and that, Szafnauer believes, was enough to get everything in place.

"If it's 20 (races) a year, is five years... 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.

"You need about six months, six to nine months, to understand what's really required. 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. 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.

"Some I was successful in getting 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 percent 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."

However, Alpine's top management wasn't prepared to wait, it wanted results and it wanted them now, and Szafnauer insists that the controlling nature of that management was only ever going to work against the team and its aspirations.

"The parent company wanted to have a lot of control in a lot of areas of the racing team," he says. "More than I've ever seen before. The commercial area, the marketing area, HR, finance, communication, all that stuff reported not to me, but around me, to somebody else in the bigger organization.

"If you say all else equal, the cars equal, the drivers are equal, the power treads equal, your knowledge of the tires is equal... but what isn't equal is the fact that a Mercedes or a Red Bull have HR, finance, especially finance now because of the cost cap, all the commercial aspects and communication reporting to Christian and we don't, guess who's gonna win? Red Bull. And when you look at it that way, it's really, really easy to understand.

"If you don't look at it that way, then you can convince yourself that, 'Oh yeah, that's okay. It's okay that HR doesn't report through the team principal'.

"It's not okay. It's not okay at all because if you're going to hire somebody and you've got to get a contract out within a day because that's what we do in Formula 1, you can't take two weeks. If it takes you two weeks, maybe that special hire went somewhere else.

"You gotta be pirates!"


more news >



galleries >

  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • latest F1/Formula 1 images


or Register for a Pitpass ID to have your say

Please note that all posts are reactively moderated and must adhere to the site's posting rules and etiquette.

Post your comment



1. Posted by Simon in Adelaide, 17/08/2023 6:52

"Renault management are about as reliable as the electrics on my son's Clio when driven in the rain."

Rating: Positive (1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 17/08/2023 1:13

"A good insight into how these teams that are owned by large companies need a certain amount of decentralised command in place in order to make quick decisions. Central control doesn’t always work. "

Rating: Positive (3)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

Share this page


Copyright © Pitpass 2002 - 2023. All rights reserved.

about us  |  advertise  |  contact  |  privacy & security  |  rss  |  terms