Mercedes F1 ownership model suggested saviour for underperforming rival

Jamie Woodhouse
The Mercedes logo in the Las Vegas pit lane. F1 news

The Mercedes logo is lit up in the night of the Las Vegas pit lane.

If Alpine are to achieve the success they desire, then F1 correspondent Mark Gallagher says Renault should scale back their influence to create that “firewall” between F1 and the car business.

It is safe to say that Alpine’s 100-race plan to return to the F1 summit is not progressing as planned, this stalling of progress having led to several high-profile changes in senior management.

Laurent Rossi was replaced mid-2023 as the Automobiles Alpine and F1 team CEO, while team principal Otmar Szafnauer, sporting director Alan Permane and chief technical officer Pat Fry headed for the exit soon after.

Renault told to look in the mirror

Speaking on the Flat Chat podcast, Gallagher said Renault need to look in the mirror when it comes to the struggles of their team to progress as hoped.

“The unfortunate thing is with the whole Alpine story, none of it comes as a surprise,” he said. “It’s all so terribly predictable, because the issues just seem to be repeated and repeated and repeated.

“And you wonder why Renault don’t realise that the problem is not Enstone, the problem is them. Look in the mirror. The issue is coming from the way in which Renault structure that organisation, have structured it in the past, the way that the leadership has been appointed, roles and responsibilities given.

“Laurent Rossi, highly experienced, very academically well-qualified manager, lots of managerial experience in the world of business, complete novice when it comes to Formula 1. Why does anybody, whether it’s himself or anyone else, think that he is going to drop into that role, and immediately be able to make the kind of gains and the difference that needs to be made? This is why experience is so important.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a driver, an engineer, a team principal, do you know this industry inside out and what it is that makes a difference and how it works? And if the answer is you don’t, you can’t be learning on the job, because this is an incredibly competitive environment, it doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

“So I feel sorry for the fact that this has become kind of a milling machine for people who have had their careers and reputations damaged and a team that’s not achieving the ultimate success that we’d like [them] to achieve. It’s kind of that nearly team, it’s a team forever in transition.”

Gallagher argues that an F1 team must have a “clear, concise structure” if it wants to be successful, pointing to Davide Brivio’s hiring by Renault CEO Luca de Meo, initially as racing director, then moving to work with the academy before his exit from the team at the end of 2023 was confirmed.

“Fuzzy” structures where it is not clear who the buck stops with, Gallagher argues cannot bring success in F1.

“You have got to have a clear, concise structure, roles and responsibilities, someone who’s got their name on the desk, the buck stops with them,” said Gallagher.

“Whether it’s a Toto Wolff at Mercedes-Benz, or it’s a Christian Horner at Red Bull or it’s a Frederic Vasseur at Ferrari, you need that person who literally is leading the team, they have to have that leadership.

“It doesn’t matter that a Formula 1 team is now a very large organisation, they still need to have a team boss, a team leader with clear accountability to drive the success of the organisation.”

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Renault told to take a page from Mercedes playbook

To that point, Gallagher suggested that Renault should look to how the Mercedes ownership is structured and take a step back, thus allowing those in charge of the F1 side to be clearly distinct from the car division.

Renault has already taken a first step in this regard, recently selling a 24 per cent stake in the Alpine F1 team to investment group including celebrity figures such as Ryan Reynolds, Rory McIlroy and Anthony Joshua.

“The other thing that I’ll say, the fact that they have sold a chunk of equity, the Ryan Reynolds deal, is interesting,” said Gallagher.

“Because when we think about Mercedes Formula 1, Mercedes only owns 33% of their Formula 1 team, and actually, if I were Renault, I’d be looking very closely at the Mercedes model.

“Because that’s one thing that Alpine does not need to be, is run as a subsidiary of a car company. It needs to be given complete autonomy, its own budget, its own leadership, its own structure, and just go off and do and be allowed to go off and do the job in the way that Mercedes have allowed Toto Wolff to go off and do that job.

“Yes, of course, Toto and Niki Lauda were accountable. They had their board meetings in Stuttgart and they would sit down and talk to Mercedes about what they needed to win, but then they went off with complete autonomy to go off and deliver that.

“And I think for me, there’s a step missing there with the structure at Renault and Alpine. You need to have that very clear sort of firewall between the Formula 1 team and the whole automotive business.

“So the Formula 1 team could just get on, do the job that it needs to do, led by people who have vast experience of the sport and can just ask the shareholders, ‘so this is the money that we need for investment, this is what we need in order to make the steps that we need to make as a team going forward.’

“They’re not a shockingly bad Formula 1 team, they’re kind of in the B-class, but if they have aspirations to actually win, which Luca de Meo says he wants, they are a long, long way from making that breakthrough.”

Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly will once more be tasked with racing the Alpine challengers in F1 2024.

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