Fears of Toyota repeat for Alpine after ‘three heavy hitters’ suddenly depart

Michelle Foster
Alpine's Renault power unit on display at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2023.

Alpine's Renault power unit on display at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2023.

Losing key personnel in Otmar Szafnauer, Alan Permane, and Pat Fry, all within 24 hours, Karun Chandhok hopes Alpine don’t go the way of Toyota who swapped F1 knowhow for “road car” smarts.

Alpine announced ahead of the summer break that the Belgian Grand Prix weekend would be team boss Szafnauer’s last race weekend with the team, despite having joined just 18 months prior, while stalwart sporting director Permane was also leaving.

That same day the team confirmed Williams had signed their chief technical officer Fry, a triple blow for Alpine.

Alpine lost Otmar Szafnauer, Alan Permane and Pat Fry

But with new interim team boss Bruno Famin saying Szafnauer and Permane had left by mutual agreement, the two on a different timeframe to the Alpine higher-ups on the success plan, former F1 driver Chandhok fears another Toyota in the making.

“I do a bit,” he told Sky Sports when asked if he had sympathy for Szafnauer. “But I don’t really want to talk about Otmar by himself because I think we have to consider the way that that massive wave of three heavy hitters has come a one shot.

“You’ve lost Alan Pername, who has been in the team for 34 years, Pat Fry, who seems to have left on his own accord rather than being pushed, unlike Otmar and Alan, and he’s gone to Williams, which is a great signing for Williams by the way.

“And I think that the loss of all three of them is a big loss.

“And I think the point about lack of direction leadership from the top, a big change of leadership, is a bit of a worry.

“To me, if you look at the people they got rid of, it’s people who are from an operational and trackside perspective, which means that what they’re trying to say is that’s where the problems were.

“And therefore, the likes of Matt Harmon, the chief designer, and Bruno Famin, who run the engine department, that side of it’s all fine. The troubles were operationally, I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case.

“The reality is they are the sixth best team, they are the sixth fastest car, but the other third biggest global automotive manufacturer, that is just not good enough.

“Where my concern comes in is are they going to be bringing in more management and more people from outside of motorsport, outside of Formula One?

“Already if you look at the people who are in the planning departments, for example at Enstone and things like that, they brought them in from road car industry.

“And you do wonder now with with Renault corporate, maybe taking a stronger hold in terms of running that team, is it going a bit like Toyota from 20 years ago?

“Is it going down a sort of non-F1 way way and sort of going down the corporate way which I’m not convinced is going to work?”

Toyota left Formula 1 after the 2009 season, the Japanese manufacturer having failed to achieve their goal of race wins never mind World titles.

Despite being a well-funded team, management and driver management meant continuity was lacking.

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His fellow Sky Sports pundit David Croft added: “I don’t get it. I asked the question to Bruno Famin during the press conference that ‘you’ve been two weeks of the job was this your idea or are you carrying out orders from above?

“He didn’t really answer that one to be fair.

“I said what are your targets? He said wins and championships, which seems far-fetched given where the team is at the moment.

“I said how are you going to do that when your engine is the worst on the grid, and they’re talking about a balance of power equalisation for it, because the engine is not good.

“And he says no we’re the chassis department, the end so they need to be to be getting better, too.”

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