Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer was reportedly spotted hanging around Ferrari hospitality in Miami, sparking talk over his future and that of former Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto.
It has not been the smoothest of starts to the F1 2023 campaign for Alpine, who have suffered lows like Australia when Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon collided to bring a double DNF, yet highs like Saudi Arabia and Miami where they were showing signs of closing in on that Aston Martin, Mercedes and Ferrari trio behind the dominant Red Bull squad.
Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi though has not been impressed, and ahead of the Miami GP he launched a scathing assessment of the team’s performance, “unacceptable” and “amateurish” particularly strong words to be used.
And these were comments which F1 Nation podcast host Tom Clarkson felt really served to “burn the house” down at Alpine.
“Let’s be honest, he burnt the house down didn’t he?” Clarkson stated.
“He’d said the team are a bunch of dilettantes and amateurish and all these different descriptions, and no one in that team appreciated it. And none more so than team principal Otmar Szafnauer. Now, I find it very difficult.”
While such comments were rather surprising in nature, Clarkson pointed out that Rossi is “not a stupid man”, and so believes there must be an “ulterior motive” behind his actions. And could that be thoughts regarding the former Ferrari team boss Binotto?
The long-serving Ferrari man handed in his resignation from the team principal position at the end of the 2022 campaign, and so now is on a customary period of gardening leave.
Clarkson made the reveal though that when F1 Nation recording was taking place in Miami, Szafnauer was seen going in and out of Ferrari hospitality several times, someone who Clarkson reckons is now very much under pressure.
A thought which Clarkson had in mind was that Szafnauer could have been searching for information on Binotto’s status, with Alpine perhaps having decided that Binotto “is the ultimate objective now to go and run that team instead of Otmar”.
“The man under pressure is Otmar Szafnauer,” Clarkson added.
“And interestingly, when Pedro de la Rosa and myself were recording this show last week in the Miami paddock, at one point we were outside the Ferrari hospitality area, and Otmar Szafnauer went in and out of the Ferrari hospitality area several times.
“And I’m trying to work out what that was all about.”
Italian journalist Roberto Chinchero, who also appeared on the podcast, confirmed that Binotto is “respecting perfectly” his gardening leave, and so has given no updates at all on his status.
But on Clarkson’s point that perhaps Alpine favour Binotto over Szafnauer to run the Alpine team, Chinchero questioned whether a fresh team principal role would really be of interest to Binotto.
Perhaps instead the “technical director role” is something which Alpine could have in mind for him? That in theory would make more sense for why Szafnauer was roaming around the Ferrari hospitality.
And 1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill said that would be in line with his long-held belief that the team principal role was not the right fit for Binotto, who he still believes Ferrari would benefit from bringing back on board.
“I thought it wasn’t the right role for him,” said Hill. “He’s technical, and I think he’s very important to the team, I think he’s got enormous talent.
“I’d bring him back in and say you can run all the technical side of things.
“There’s another aspect to being a team principal, which I think that some people are good at. I mean, a lot of it is about arguing over money, or the strategy of marketing F1.
“It might not be his prime focus, it might not be the something that you love and your passion. But I was surprised that they [Ferrari] couldn’t fit the two in [Binotto and Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur], because I think Fred Vasseur is that sort of guy, he understands racing.”
It is a race on home soil for the Ferrari team next up as Formula 1 heads to Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, while Alpine will be looking to take P5 from McLaren in the Constructors’ standings, the teams currently tied on 14 points.