Otmar Szafnauer has opened up about his concerns with Alpine’s senior management after leaving the team unexpectedly just over two weeks ago.
Former Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer has said that he disagreed with Luca de Meo, CEO of Renault, who intended to achieve goals in an “unrealistic” length of time.
On the night before the Belgian Grand Prix, it was announced that former Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer and ‘Team Enstone’ mainstay Alan Permane would be leaving. This decision drew harsh criticism against the team from several big names in Formula 1.
Szafnauer was actually observed leaving the Spa-Francorchamps paddock before the event following his shocking fallout with the team.
Four-time World Champion Alain Prost delivered a particularly scathing assessment of what is transpiring with his old employers, stating that he is saddened and distressed to see them in such a state.
Szafnauer left his position as team principal at Aston Martin to become team principal at Alpine after becoming concerned that “two Popes” were in charge and denying him the independence he required to carry out his duties.
Speaking of his experiences at Alpine, it appears that some of the same problems existed there, with parent company Renault taking over areas that he ought to have been in charge of.
Alpine has suffered from a mixed season that has been generally unsatisfactory, leading to the significant leadership upheaval. Even though Szafnauer acknowledges that his strategy is incorrect, it appears that everything is part of De Meo’s plan.
In order to show where operations need to be streamlined, he gave the example of seeking to hire staff from other teams. However, this was not possible because multiple departments did not report to him directly, and he argues he was unable to respond quickly enough in that situation.
“The parent company wanted to have a lot of control in a lot of areas of the racing team,” Szafnauer told SiriusXM’s Cars & Culture with Jason Stein. “More than I’ve ever seen before.
“You know, the commercial area, the marketing area, HR, finance, communication, all that stuff reported not to me, but around me, to somebody else in the bigger organisation, and they all act like a navy, and we have to be pirates in order to win.
“So if you say all else equal – the cars are equal, the drivers are equal, the powertrain is equal, your knowledge of the tyres is.
“But what isn’t equal is the fact that a Mercedes or a Red Bull have HR, finance – especially finance now because of the cost cap – all the commercial aspects and communication reporting to Christian Horner
“And we don’t, guess who’s going win? Red Bull.
“And when you look at it that way, it’s really, really easy to understand. If you don’t look at it that way, then you can convince yourself that, ‘Oh yeah, that’s OK. It’s OK that HR doesn’t report through the team principal.’
“It’s not OK. It’s not OK at all because if you’re going to hire somebody and you’ve got to get a contract out within a day because that’s what we do in Formula 1, you can’t take two weeks.
“If it takes you two weeks, maybe that special hire went somewhere else. You’ve got to be pirates.”
According to the former team boss, it appears that Alpine’s goals to be fighting for race victories within the team were on a faster pace because they are halfway through their “100-race plan” to reach to the front.
The Romanian-American claimed to have presented De Meo with a “very realistic” plan to carry Alpine to the summit, but the French team preferred to take shortcuts. He claimed that Alpine did not like the plan he put in place, based on his previous experiences with other teams.
“I think the senior management at Renault, the CEO, Luca de Meo, wants, as everyone does in Formula 1, success instantly and unfortunately, that’s not how it works in Formula 1,” Szafnauer said.
“So I pointed out to him that it takes time and the process of doing it, what’s required, and having raced for 34 years – and 26 years of it in Formula 1 – I think I speak with a degree of experience when I say ‘this is what it takes to turn a team around’ and they wanted to do it faster than is possible.
“I couldn’t agree to an unrealistic timeline because if you do that, it’s only a matter of time and everyone gets frustrated.
“So I laid out a very realistic and possible plan and I think they wanted to shortcut that plan with somebody else.”
A rumored candidate for Szafnauer’s position, which is currently held by Bruno Famin, the vice president of Alpine Motorsports, is former Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto.
Starting with the Dutch Grand Prix which comes at the end of August and signals the end of the summer break, Famin will briefly hold the position until a replacement is found.