Otmar Szafnauer bites back at Fernando Alonso’s ‘happy with fourth’ Alpine jab

Toby Miles
Otmar Szafnauer looks at Fernando Alonso. Austin, October 2022.

Alpine's Otmar Szafnauer looks at Fernando Alonso. Austin, October 2022.

Fernando Alonso hasn’t held back from firing shots at Alpine since his off-season switch to Aston Martin. Now it’s Otmar Szafnauer’s turn to counter.

The Alpine principal was joined by Esteban Ocon and new recruit Pierre Gasly in London to unveil the new A523 machine, three days after Aston Martin showed-off their AMR23.

Gasly has been drafted in to replace Alonso after the veteran Spaniard announced a shock move to the Silverstone-based team this winter.

Although Aston could only manage seventh in last year’s Constructors’ race compared to Alpine’s midfield-topping fourth, Alonso was enticed by the team’s heavy investments as they take aim at Grand Prix victories. The 41-year-old will be a decade without an F1 win in May.

With Alpine, two more years were added to Alonso’s drought. Aiming a not-so-subtle dig at this former employers, he blamed complacency for the limited success of his third stint on the Renault-backed team.

“This is very different compared to any other team that I joined in the last few occasions where maybe they had success in the past and they were just in a comfortable position,” Alonso said at the AMR23 launch. 

“They finished fourth and they were happy with fourth. They finished fifth and they were happy with fifth. If we were seventh, it was a celebration. Here there are no celebrations until we win and this is very appealing.”

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Responding to Alonso at Alpine’s own 2023 reveal, Szafnauer told media including PlanetF1.com: “I think when we did finish fourth, if you look back, he was as happy as everybody else who was part of the team.

“When the year before you’re fifth and your ambition is to move up to fourth, it’s not easy to do. We had to beat McLaren. I’ve been to Woking and you walk by and they have a massive trophy cabinet, so they’re not easy to beat.

“So I think you have to celebrate those successes when you say, ‘look, I want to be top four, I want to be fourth not fifth’. I don’t think it’s shameful to say ‘we’ve done it and let’s celebrate’.

“For us, next year, if we can get much closer to third than we were this year, I’ll celebrate that too. If we’re closer and the gap isn’t that big, that means we’re making progress to where we want to go.”

Alpine or Fernando Alonso: Who will have the last laugh?

Although Alonso was ultimately unhappy with fourth in Constructors’ and ninth in the Drivers’ standings in 2022, Aston Martin would surely be satisfied with the same result this year.

Billionaire Lawrence Stroll’s team have returned back-to-back seventh-places on the Constructors’ standings since rebranding Racing Point, who had represented a lower-budget team punching above their weight.

However, Aston are investing around $200million into a brand new factory and wind tunnel complex at their Silverstone base, which is expected to be fully operational in 2024. They have also poached a host of talented engineers and senior team members, including new CEO Martin Whitmarsh and ex-Red Bull aero chief Dan Fallows.

There has been a lot of positive noises coming from Silverstone this winter. Even the World Champions are taking note, with Christian Horner’s sources talking about “big numbers” on Aston’s green machine.

However, Alpine will be ones to watch too. With an engine freeze in place until 2026, the team took a “high risk” approach to their 2022 powertrain – shedding as much weight as possible and sacrificing reliability.

Alonso was the victim of that reliability deficit on several occasions last season but Alpine are confident of fixing those issues for 2023.

So, will Aston’s upgrades pay-off immediately, or do the French team have enough of a performance head-start to have the last laugh following Alonso’s digs? We’ll find out soon enough.