The Aston Martin budget cap exception which has Alpine calling for greater flexibility

Michelle Foster
Esteban Ocon blurred pit stop. Azerbaijan April 2023

Alpine driver Esteban Ocon blurred pit stop. Azerbaijan April 2023

Stuck with antiquated facilities, Otmar Szafnauer believes Alpine need an Aston Martin-esque exemption from the budget cap in order to build a new transmission test bench amongst other things.

Alpine have been making headlines this season but for all the wrong reasons which included a triple penalty for Esteban Ocon in Bahrain, a double crash in Australia, and a fiery Friday in Azerbaijan.

It led to CEO Laurent Rossi taking the unusual route of publicly shaming his team for their “unacceptable” and “amateurish” performances. He later all but threatened Szafnauer’s job, telling the 58-year-old that the “buck stops” with him.

But according to the American there’s more at play than just silly performances, Alpine was being let down by their own infrastructure with the wind tunnel an old McLaren model with their simulation tools in general getting on in age.

“Each team tries to determine the most important set-up parameters in the factory,” he told Auto Motor und Sport. “The others have better simulation tools than we do.

“Sometimes we’re close, sometimes a little further away. But we usually need a little more time on the track until we have found the perfect set-up.

“Our current simulator is 15 to 20 years old. It’s an old McLaren model. We ordered a new, modern simulator a month ago. But it’s only in one and a half to two years to go. That’s just how long it takes for things to get built.”

The team also needs a new test bench for their transmission, but in order to design or buy everything they need, Szafnauer says they need some leeway in the budget cap.

Leeway, he reveals, that was granted to Aston Martin. recommends

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“We have to talk to the FIA so that necessary investments do not fall under the budget cap. Otherwise you are trapped with your existing infrastructure,” he said.

“We have to build a new transmission test bench for 2026. That leaves no room for other measures.

“Certain projects should be outside the budget cap, such as the Aston Martin wind tunnel, for which an exception was made. If that were under the budget – well that would never have happened.”

Alpine also need an Aston Martin-style shopping spree

But that’s not the only Aston Martin move Alpine need to make.

Speaking about his former team’s recruitment drive where Aston Martin went shopping at Red Bull, Szafnauer said: “Aston brought in a lot of people from Red Bull and Mercedes, not just Dan Fallows and Eric Blandin, who everyone is talking about now.

“Guess who chose them back then.”

He added: “But that takes time. People who can help the team and make a difference usually have long-term contracts.”

He went onto reveal that Alpine have already began the hunt for new personnel, the Enstone team wanting to bring in seven or eight experienced aerodynamicists.

“You have to understand what the people you’re trying to sign want in life. Then there’s the question of whether you can offer them more of that than the team they’re working for.

“If the answer is yes, then come on. Some may be stuck in a position with no prospect of promotion. Then the chances are good.

“If that alone isn’t enough, only my good looks will help,” he joked.

Szafnauer understands Rossi’s frustration

With 14 points from five races, and well behind Szafnauer’s former team Aston Martin who have scored 102, the American understands Rossi’s frustration.

Touching on the team’s 100 race plan, he insisted “Our new infrastructure should be set up in this span and then we’ll take the next steps.

“So we still have 75 races left. That’s about three and a half years.

“Everyone here in the team wants us to deliver good results. We put ourselves under enough pressure. We simply have to solve the problems we have.

“In Baku we didn’t call up our normal performance, in Australia our two drivers collided, in Bahrain we had a lot of penalties as a result of Esteban’s wrong starting position – that So it wasn’t exactly a smooth start to the season.”

Despite trailing Aston Martin, Mercedes and Ferrari, the latter 64 points ahead in fourth place, Szafnauer is convinced Alpine can close the gap.

“If we develop better than them,” he said, “we have a chance of beating them down the track at some point. The good thing about it is that we can see what they’ve done, and that speeds up our own development.”