Broken ‘gentleman’s agreement’ leaves Renault with an ‘impossible’ task

Oliver Harden
Pierre Gasly, Alpine

Alpine driver Pierre Gasly flashes past at the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Former Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer believes it is “impossible” for the team to be competitive at the front of the F1 grid with their current Renault engine shortfall.

And he has accused rival manufacturers of breaking a gentleman’s agreement to ensure parity of power unit performance.

The Renault engine emerged as Alpine’s main weakness during a chaotic 2023 season, with Szafnauer repeatedly raising the issue prior to his dismissal at July’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Alpine-Renault left in ‘impossible’ position by F1 rivals

When Honda officially withdrew from F1 at the end of 2021, F1 enforced an engine freeze to allow Red Bull to keep using the Japanese manufacturer’s units, with an agreement in place to ensure all engines on the current grid – Renault, Honda, Mercedes and Ferrari – remain relatively equal in performance terms.

However, Szafnauer has accused Renault’s competitors of breaking a vow to help the French marque catch up, having previously claimed that Alpine’s engines were “significantly down” on the opposition.

And he believes Renault’s current deficit will remain until F1’s new engine rules come into effect in 2026.

In an interview with F1 analyst Peter Windsor’s YouTube channel, he said: “The FIA have all the data and I think it was at my last-ever Formula 1 Commission meeting that the FIA put it on the agenda.

“When the engine regulations were such that we had to freeze development in order for Red Bull to be able to use a Honda engine that wasn’t going to be developed, I wasn’t there for it but there was a gentleman’s agreement that said if the powertrain output of all the manufacturers was a percentage different than they would start looking at what to do to bring everybody in line.

“The FIA themselves said: ‘Look, [Renault are] outside of the powertrain difference window, we need to start talking about what we should do to bring the Renault engine back in line with the with the rest of them.’

“We had one meeting where I argued pretty hard on behalf of Renault to get the other engine manufacturers to do exactly what they promised when the engine freeze came about.

“But a gentleman’s agreement in Formula 1 is sometimes worth having and other times not.

“I think that discrepancy – only because it’s really hard to change now – will stay probably until ’26. So another two years, ’24 and ’25.” recommends

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Szafnauer went on to argue it is “impossible” for Alpine to emerge as a front-running force with the engine still lacking, claiming there is nothing the drivers, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, or the chassis department can do to overcome such a glaring shortcoming.

He explained: “We all worked as one team but the issue with the powertrain discrepancy is that it’s frozen.

“Even if you want to change it, you’ve got constraints. You can’t. You can only make changes for reliability’s sake and that doesn’t give you much latitude to improve the power output of the unit.

“And that in itself, if you have that deficiency, is hard to overcome.

“So for you to be competitive at the front of the grid, you need to have the chassis and the drivers and everything else be that much better than everyone else to make up for the powertrain deficiency – and that’s impossible.”

Having finished fourth in the 2022 Constructors’ Championship in Szafnauer’s only full season in charge at Enstone, Alpine slipped to a disappointing sixth – 160 points behind Aston Martin (fifth), 92 ahead of Williams (seventh) – in 2023.

Read next: Alpine reveal ‘clear contract’ in place with Mick Schumacher and Mercedes

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