Thanks to a steady upward trend in recent seasons, Alpine 2023 finally wants to annoy the big three of Formula 1. The attack should be made possible above all by better stability. But the departure of Fernando Alonso and the lack of experience over the past year raise questions.
Flip up: Welcome, Alpine A523. For the highlight of a car presentation disguised as a party, the stand builders had thought of a stylish gimmick for their customer Alpine. In the best DRS manner, the previously protective wall opened up and revealed the two French hopefuls to the flashbulbs. If it were up to Otmar Szafnauer's squad, the surprise effect could well continue into the upcoming season.
After fourth place in the World Championship last season and the long-awaited leapfrogging of the long-term rival McLaren, the team from Enstone wants to take the next, trophy-rich step in 2023 - but under no circumstances risk the good starting position. Renault CEO Luca de Meo sets the motto: "This project is designed for a long future. But we want to get closer to the top now, because the gap to Mercedes and Co. was far too big in 2022. Some podiums would be my wish."
Alpine boss Laurent Rossi adds: "You heard my boss. We recently issued a timeline with the five-year and 100-race plan. In order to achieve the goal, we have to close the gap to the top quickly, but also secure fourth place." Rossi had already announced in autumn 2021 that he would get as many podiums "as possible" in 2024. The first top results this year would suitably bridge the gap.
Alpine is gearing up
A few hours before the presentation in London, Rob White is relaxing in Enstone, despite the hectic preparations in Bahrain. Alpine's operations manager, who learned his trade at engine builder Cosworth, has worked for the F1 team for almost 20 years and knows both the chassis factory surrounded by sheep pastures and the engine plant in Viry-Châtillon inside out. In the last few months, the veteran claims to have recognized a major change at both locations.
"Anyone who already knows our factory and my people will see that a lot has changed recently. Alpine's offensive approach brought new motivation." Similar to their rivals, the Franco-British have invested heavily in infrastructure. Among other things, a new building for carbon production grew out of the ground next to the access road. In addition, they recently worked on the error-prone wind tunnel and improved the simulator. As a factory team, you don't want to lag behind the private and of course the manufacturer-supported competition in the latest investment battle.
Although the birthplace of the Benetton and Renault world championships may have gotten a little old from the outside, the first consequences of the wishes from the executive floor can be seen on the inside. After not so long ago a Renault exit seemed not at all unlikely, de Meo's words are followed by deeds. The CEO not only confirmed at the launch: "Formula 1 out? Only over my dead body!"
A523 with plenty of evolution
The essence of the new ambitions should be the A523 - the third modern F1 racer of the revived brand. In contrast to its predecessor, the new car can impress right out of the starting blocks, according to Technical Director Matt Harman. He reiterates: "We're already in much better shape after the shakedown than last year. The team reached their limits in the winter, but now has a lot less stress and can focus on driver feedback instead of troubleshooting." He is particularly happy about the hard-fought achievement of the weight limit.
His chassis team took on several fronts at once. In addition to a modified nose, a new front suspension should refine the air flow and kinematics in the front area. To do this, the Enstone team worked on the aerodynamic weak points of the rear. The new pushrod suspension and the sidepod channels are designed to eliminate previous downforce concerns and increase the efficiency limited by the threat of bouncing. The same applies to the new rear wing.
For this season and the next, Harman expects an increasing development race in externally visible aerodynamics. "Since the time gains in the field are becoming smaller and smaller, the focus is shifting from overall concepts to the details. These can be found above all on the upper side." At the end of the press round, the technical director allowed himself an announcement to the rivals: "We have already planned an update for the first race. And you will be able to see that visually. how much we are evolving and how well we have the budget cap under control."
Durability is king
Harman's counterpart on the engine side, Bruno Famin, also came to London with a major update. Last year's new signing from FIA circles reports: "The biggest problem last season was the connection of the water pump. It was clear early on that something had to be done here. However, other parts of the engine also had to be revised, which meant the integration massively influenced in the chassis and thus only became possible through the car change."
The 2022 team was able to minimize the risk of damage-prone components with a few modifications. But the list of failures still speaks little for itself. A new water pump was therefore unavoidable.Although the first test bench results are positive, Famin does not yet see the Franco-British cow off the ice: "We are confident, but the truth is known to be lying around."
While the last development steps could be pushed forward in winter with the argument of stability, the 2026 regulations are now hovering over Viry-Châtillon. Famin explains: "We still want to wait for the start of the season and make sure that the update works. After that we will shift our focus and will put 90 percent of the resources on the future."
"Never be best friends"
Aside from the departure of Fernando Alonso and the Piastri debacle, the earlier human rifts between Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly shaped reporting on Alpine's driver staff. The Renault subsidiary itself is now flirting with the frequently asked questions and, for example, has his duo blasting off to Enstone in a commercial from Normandy - of course with the corresponding "happy ending" at the conference table with Otmar Szafnauer.
Ocon, winner of the Hungarian GP 2021, states: "The media naturally jumps at such headlines and stories, but we are both professionals and we both work in such a way that we will perform. I believe that we will never be best friends . But that's not important either. It's about the atmosphere in the team and that we have open discussions."
Pierre Gasly, winner of the 2020 Italian GP, feels the same way: "I've spent more time with him in the last two months than in the previous ten years. It's going well. We're adults now, we've matured and we know ours Responsibility as Alpine drivers. We are aware that we have to work closely together."
Sick Ocon, Gasly with good intentions
In addition to their "relationship status", both also shared their personal perspective on the preparation. Esteban Ocon suffered a serious lung disease during the winter break. The stubborn symptoms caused by a virus severely hampered his winter training: "I fought for a month and a half to get back to my old level of fitness. But I'm back at 100 percent."
For Gasly, the restart character was clearly in the foreground. After the ups and downs in the Red Bull family, he wants to approach the new challenge calmly, but also with ambition. "There is massive potential here and we have the right people. Now it's time to work hard in order to achieve success later." Victories are the goal, but still unrealistic – as Ocon also explains.
So the flap construction of the London stage remains the only one that the racers from Enstone and Viry-Châtillon really dare to tear open. But one thing is clear: the French national racing team has big plans for the coming years.