Alpine admit to being ‘caught out’ by focus on engine performance

Jon Wilde
Esteban Ocon's Alpine car next to a cherry-picker. Marina Bay October 2022.

Renault’s brave approach with their 2022 F1 engine is now coming back to bite Alpine, the team’s chief technical officer Pat Fry has conceded.

Back in February, just before initial pre-season testing in Barcelona, Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi revealed he had urged Renault to “explore the limits as much as possible”.

Rossi had added: “I’d rather have a power unit where I can be sure maximum performance has been teased out than sit there comfortably with a reliable power unit that doesn’t perform.”

Now, after 17 races of the campaign, those words have returned to haunt Alpine because they are very much paying the price for a lack of reliability.

Fernando Alonso, who has already served two grid penalties this year for exceeding the permitted number of power-unit parts, has admitted he is facing a third following a double DNF for the team at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Both Alonso and Esteban Ocon retired within seven laps of each other due to what team boss Otmar Szafnauer had initially – and wrongly, as it transpired – suspected was a “similar power-unit problem”.

With Alonso saying he thinks he may have lost up to 60 points because of breakdowns this season, that has put Alpine in a battle they will think they should be winning clearly against McLaren for P4 in the Constructors’ Championship rather than trailing by four points going into the Japanese Grand Prix.

“There are always teething problems,” Fry told Motorsport.com about the engine gremlins.

“Obviously we took a lot on this year, changing a huge amount. And we are a huge amount better off in terms of performance for what was done over the last couple of years really.

“Some great work has gone on but it was always done knowing we would chase performance, and reliability we would fix. And I think that’s a courageous way about moving forward, isn’t it? Every now and then you get caught out, as everyone does.”

Fry also confirmed the issues that afflicted Alonso and Ocon in Singapore had not actually been related after all.

“They were different problems,” he said. “The engines were back on Tuesday lunchtime, stripped and understood and we are working on it.

“The issues are relatively new, I would say. They need to be understood and until you dig into what the root cause is, you are never quite sure, are you? So you’ve got to do your analysis properly.”

Alonso had said in a drivers’ press conference at Suzuka that he may need to take another engine penalty before the end of the season, potentially at the United States Grand Prix next time out.

Asked about that prospect, Fry added: “I think until we understand the problem it’s hard to answer that question truthfully, to be honest.

“I honestly don’t know. At the moment, I don’t think we need to take any penalties here [in Japan].

“Esteban has some reasonable mileage left, Fernando, we need to have a think. But again, it all comes down to what the analysis says. It’s hard to know at the moment until all that work has been done.”

Read more: Fernando Alonso would be ‘close to the Mercedes’ were it not for lost Alpine points