Could Alpine really have the worst F1 car on the grid?

Sam Cooper
The Alpine car during the Bahrain test

Predictions for Alpine's season are already looking glum.

For anyone who saw Ridley Scott’s Napoleon or indeed is familiar with the story of the French emperor, you will know it only ever ends one way.

Napoleon’s demise came in the Belgian town of Waterloo with the dictator being vanquished by the British and ultimately exiled to a small island in the Atlantic ocean.

Alpine’s demise is a little less bombastic but does share many of the same qualities.

The Alpine brand, and Renault before it, did once used to be a respected and feared member of the paddock. Fernando Alonso’s title-winning years were their proudest moment but even solely as an engine provider, Renault won 10 Constructors’ championships with Williams, Benetton and Red Bull.

These days, the Renault engine is universally accepted as the poorest of the four suppliers and the Alpine car has already been predicted to be one of the slowest on the grid.

The Renault brand is one that is never too far away from turmoil. Losing your most recent World Champion not once, but twice, from under your nose is bad enough but there have been many other drivers to have slipped through the Alpine net.

Renault paid a significant sum to prise Daniel Ricciardo away from Red Bull only to then lose him, and the momentum they were building, to McLaren. Ricciardo’s replacement in Woking was also once wearing the Alpine shirt – but now the decision to not tie Oscar Piastri looks like one of the worst the team has made in years.

At a leadership level, it has been a case of too many cooks not just spoiling the broth but pouring it all away…only to make a mess of it once again. Laurent Rossi’s tenure as CEO was one filled with petulant comments in the media and a leadership style that left Alain Prost describing his compatriot as “an incapable leader who thinks he can overcome his incompetence by his arrogance and lack of humanity towards his troops.”

Rossi’s handling of the affair meant Prost walked out and yet the four-time World Champion is exactly the kind of wise voice they could have done with. Another figure to leave was long-time servant Alan Permane and Red Bull’s decision to immediately snap him up for RB shows what Alpine had lost.

In Rossi’s place stepped Bruno Famin and yet even he has a number of different roles. The Frenchman is VP of Alpine Motorsports whilst also the team principal of the F1 outfit. Take a look across the grid and who else has that much on their shoulders?

The F1 team is in desperate need of a jump start. In 2022, the team managed P4 but that was largely through McLaren’s issues rather than a huge improvement by Alpine.

2023 saw them sink to sixth and overtaken by both McLaren and the Alonso-led Aston Martin.

It is often said that if you are not moving forward, you are standing still in F1 and Alpine seem like the ones failing to get off the start line.

McLaren have revamped their technical team and produced a much better car. Aston Martin made incredible gains over the 2022 off season to become a podium contender. Even Williams and RB look like they are on the up.

Yet it is hard to say the same about Alpine. The A524 was championed as an entirely new car with just the steering wheel remaining the same and yet, after three days of testing, the general consensus is that it is far off what the team would have wanted and some of the most pessimistic critics suggest it is the worst on the grid.

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Alpine themselves admitted they would start slowly but has there been enough over recent years to suggest they will have the capability to make up for lost time?

In Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, they have two capable drivers but their quotes after pre-season testing spoke only of reliability and not performance. Famin conceded again it would be “a challenging start to the year.”

If the worst does come true and Alpine finds themselves fighting at the back, it poses the question: is this an extinction level event? Is this their Waterloo?

Enzo Ferrari’s mantra was build cars to go racing while the rebranding to Alpine shows theirs is the opposite. Yes sales of Alpine supercars increased in 2023 but it was still only a little over 4,000. Ferrari sold 13,663.

From a brand perspective and if the idea is win on Sunday, sell on Monday, who is going to be purchasing a car that is at the back of the grid?

Which brings us onto a far wider-ranging question of what is the point of the Alpine team?

Is it a midfield team happy to just be on the grid or is this 100-race plan that has been stopped and restarted god knows how many times actually a push to return to the top of the grid?

Pre-season testing results should of course be taken with a healthy dose of salt but if Alpine’s performances are anywhere near as bad as being forecasted, it is shaping up to be a disaster of a year for the team.

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