Alpine finally managed fourth place in the Constructors' Championship. Engineering Director Matt Harman explains why the A522 was a car that worked everywhere and where he sees more work to be done in the future.
After three years in 5th place in the brand rating, fourth place was mandatory this year. Alpine boss Laurent Rossi explains why: "We set ourselves certain goals this year. The plan was to put up a new structure in the team that delivers more innovations. The plan was also to bring upgrades to each race that make the car better. Both were fulfilled. That's why it wasn't just important from a financial point of view to manifest this with a result. That boosts morale. And it's a sign that we're catching up to the top. We couldn't miss this first step."
The fight with McLaren went until the last race. Alpine won it by 14 points after 22 races. Success had many fathers, but also a few stumbling blocks. The Alpine A522 was the better car on average. There wasn't a track it didn't work on. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were the more balanced driver pairing than Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.
The biggest handicap was reliability. McLaren covered 12,363 kilometers and recorded five retirements, four due to defects. Alpine covered 11,844 kilometers and failed to see the checkered flag eight times, six of them with technical problems. The Alpine drivers each had to put up with three starting place penalties for exceeding the engine contingent, McLaren only one for Lando Norris.
Stable downforce of the keys
After the winter test drives, it didn't look like an Alpine revival. But the engineers' upgrade program at Enstone pulled the team out of the quagmire. New parts were fitted to the car in 17 of the 22 races. Never the big package like McLaren in Barcelona, Paul Ricard, Spa and Singapore. But precisely in the problem areas of the car. The sidepods mutated over the years into a cross between Red Bull and Ferrari. From the underbody there were four families with different derivatives. The last floor bore the abbreviation 4B.
Alpine managed on a small scale what distinguished Red Bull at the top. The engineers understood their car. It was made faster in small increments rather than in large portions. At the end of the year, the Alpine even got a little closer to the top teams. Alonso and Ocon were able to reduce the gap to under a second at times.
Chief Technology Officer Matt Harman and his crew drew the right conclusions from cars that operated under different laws than their predecessors. The priority was no longer the absolute downforce values but rather the aerodynamic stability. "We tried to avoid peaks in contact pressure. That also helped us to largely keep bouncing away." Stable downforce became an even more important issue than it used to be because the underbody suddenly made a much bigger contribution. Stability or instability therefore also had a much greater impact on handling.
Zero overweight is the goal for Alpine
One of the biggest tasks was the shedding of weight. Alpine got rid of between seven and eight kilograms over the season and, like so many others, is still not at the limit. "Below the cost cap, it's an extremely difficult job," admits Harman. Especially when you're having problems with the Stability and new parts are added to the car practically every race. You're more likely to gain weight than you lose.
But Harman is confident that next year there will be zero on the overweight account. "We now have more experience and know where we have to start. For example with the cooling, where we were a bit too generous."
In collisions, the A522 proved to be as stable as a tank. "The others are eliminated, we'll continue", Alonso was amazed several times during the season. The engineers contested However, that part of the plan was to build a specially robust car."We don't design our car to survive crashes. The suspensions were automatically stronger this year because the cars have harder springs and have to absorb more shocks."
New Renault engine as a door opener
However, reliability has to improve. Many defects occurred in the area around the engine Renault has the same experience as Ferrari.You had to find a lot of power in one winter to get to the level of the others before freezing development and you paid a price for it.Most sources of error have been identified and will not appear again next year.Work problem areas are still allowed.
The new drive unit was a kind of door opener for the chassis engineers. In addition to performance, great progress has also been made in terms of dimensions, weight, cooling requirements and rigidity. This gives more freedom in the concept of the A522
When it came to top speed, Alpine was mostly in the top third.The aerodynamics were extremely efficient, just like the Red Bull. The fact that the Red Bull was still a whole corner faster on the straights doesn't really bother Harman: "Next year we will have solutions to equalize that." You will also need this to tackle the next goal. "The leap from 5th to 4th place was difficult," Harman looks back and warns. "Finishing third instead of fourth is even harder. We have to improve as a whole team."