Revving Up Alpine F1: Renault’s Potential Minority Sale
Otmar Szafnauer, the head of Alpine Formula 1, predicts that his team would receive increased funding if the anticipated sale of a small portion of Renault’s racing division proceeds.
Renault is believed to be considering selling a minority stake in its UK-based Formula 1 team, Alpine Racing, as opposed to the Viry operation. The potential sale was suggested last year when the company stated it was “willing to leverage the financial worth of its F1 team assets.”
The main driving force behind this move seems to be financing the global expansion of the Alpine brand, with new models in the pipeline and a probable agreement with AutoNation for selling its vehicles in the United States. This would also alleviate the financial load on the car manufacturer, while ensuring the F1 team has the resources needed to stay competitive over the long haul.
This strategy mirrors Daimler’s decision to decrease its stake in the Mercedes works team, which is now equally owned by the manufacturer, team boss Toto Wolff, and Ineos.
While Alpine’s team principal, Szafnauer, neither confirmed nor denied the occurrence of a share sale, he did express his belief that the F1 team would benefit directly from such a transaction.
“I’ve read the same reports, but I’m not directly involved in the share purchase,” Szafnauer commented in response to F1Lead’s query about the current situation of Alpine Racing amidst rumors of a share sale, during a conversation in Miami last week.
“But, I believe an announcement will be made if and when that occurs. The positive side is that there’s interest. I’m confident that, should we get this kind of income, it will lead to a boost in revenue for infrastructure,” he added.
Renault has held ownership of its works team since the 2016 season, having re-acquired the Enstone outfit it had previously sold just a few years prior.
Since regaining control, Renault has invested in updating the facilities which had languished for years without enhancements, following a period in which high-ranking staff acknowledged the team was struggling.
Certain aspects of the Enstone location are challenging to upgrade due to geographical limitations of the site. However, there have been enhancements made to the wind tunnel and CFD facility, and the outdated ex-McLaren simulator is finally being replaced.
Approval for a new simulator was only recently granted, meaning it’s likely to take up to two years to install. In the interim, a new head of simulation will join the team.
Szafnauer has consistently argued that the cost cap hinders teams who have fallen behind in terms of infrastructure from making progress. He contends that the capital expenditure allowance within the cost cap is too restrictive, suggesting that Alpine requires new equipment such as a gearbox dynamometer to meet the technical regulations set for 2026, as their current one is inadequate.
Enstone also lags in terms of staff numbers. While they have been hiring more personnel consistently, Szafnauer indicates a particular demand for additional aerodynamicists.
When asked by F1Lead if Enstone still requires further investment, Szafnauer, who joined the team just over a year ago, said, “Absolutely. Our simulation tools are not cutting-edge. Our simulator is based on 15- or possibly 20-year-old technology. It’s the first-ever simulator.”
“We possess that technology, but things have advanced. So, we need to invest. We need to invest in our tools and also in certain business areas that require supplementary expertise.
“We’re working on both of these fronts. But these things don’t materialize overnight. When you order a simulator, it arrives two years later. That’s how long it takes to produce.
“And it’s the same with hiring people. You aim to recruit individuals who can contribute to the team. However, when you approach them, they often say, ‘I’m in the middle of a three-year contract, with two years left’.
“And that’s the current state of the Formula 1 world. The engineers with the greatest influence on performance tend to sign long-term contracts.”
The significant investment by the Renault group into the team has driven some of the recent public criticism of its underperformance by Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi.
Rossi argues that the substantial funds invested warrant much better results, especially in light of Alpine’s lackluster start to the 2023 season.
However, it’s uncertain whether the Enstone facility can truly compete with the team’s intended rivals, particularly the larger operations like Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari, as well as other midfield teams such as Aston Martin and McLaren that are heavily investing in brand-new equipment.
There has also been substantial disruption within the team’s leadership, with changes at the highest level (Cyril Abiteboul, Marcin Budkowski, and now Szafnauer), as well as within the technical team.
Technical director Nick Chester and head of aerodynamics Peter Machin departed, while the team welcomed the likes of Dirk de Beer and Pat Fry, and Matt Harman was appointed as the technical director.
Szafnauer joined the team early in the previous year following Budkowski’s departure, which happened around the same time long-time advisor Alain Prost also exited the team. Rossi praised Szafnauer in 2022 for the positive impact he had on the team.
However, with Rossi warning of “consequences” if there isn’t a marked improvement in Alpine’s performance this year, and with Szafnauer specifically identified as the one to steer the season’s turnaround, there’s a potential for more internal turbulence.
Despite Szafnauer’s belief in the need for additional infrastructure and staff, he maintains that the 100-race plan to compete for regular wins is still feasible. This plan was initiated at the beginning of 2022 as a reset of Renault’s original five-year strategy from 2016.
He stated that elements like the simulator, new software tools, and increased staff were all parts of the plan that was laid out.
Szafnauer commented, “There’s approximately 75 races remaining in the plan. That’s three and a half years. And within that time, we’ll have a new simulator, a new head of simulation, a new [software] system.
“These improvements are on the horizon. Once they’re implemented, we’ll be able to take the necessary steps forward.”
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