All in all 2021 was an encouraging year for the Alpine F1 team. Following a slow start, the Enstone squad’s fortunes began to turn around the midpoint of the campaign when Esteban Ocon notched his first race win at the Hungaroring. A late-season surge, with Fernando Alonso finishing third in Qatar and Ocon following with fourth in Saudi Arabia, helped the crew top AlphaTauri and Aston Martin on the constructor’s table.
So why, then, is Alpine shedding key personnel with abandon?
The team announced former executive director Marcin Budkowski had left last week. Then on Monday, Alain Prost’s departure as a non-executive advisor was seemingly leaked early, much to the disappointment of the four-time world champion. Simultaneously, Motorsport.com reported that Otmar Szafnauer, who’d spent more than a decade running the Aston Martin team dating back to the Force India days, was set to replace Budkowski, according to anonymous sources — possibly bringing former Aston sponsor BWT along with him.
Given the strides Alpine made in 2021, all the turnover at the top level can’t help but come as a surprise. F1.com reported that Prost “had an annual contract with Alpine and the management decided not to renew it for 2022,” but later the same day Prost told French newspaper L’Equipe a different story. Via Motorsport.com:
“The 2021 season was very disturbing to me as I felt that those who had been here for a long time had to go,” he explained.
“I accept change, as you don’t have to always do F1 the same way. You can do it differently, and that’s what was done throughout last year. But for me, it has become too complicated.
“I wasn’t involved in decision making any more, I sometimes disagreed – completely – but I had to keep conveying the official word.
“Even as a member of the board, I found out about some decisions at the last minute. I may not be listened to, but I should at least be informed in time. It’s a matter of respect. Relationships have become more and more complicated, I could feel a lot of jealousy.”
Despite a diminished role in the team and a sense of isolation, Prost said that Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi still asked him to stay on for 2022 and the former driver rejected the job:
“It was in Qatar, but he still offered me a contract in Abu Dhabi, which I refused. I still must say that I believed – and still do – in this ambitious project which has incredibly boosted motivation in the group.
“However, there is now a real drive to sideline a lot of people. Laurent Rossi wants all the spotlight. What I’m interested in is the challenge of being in a team, being listened to and involved in some decisions.
As it stands Rossi is reportedly running day-to-day operations, supposedly until Szafnauer is installed at the team. Making things even more interesting, there had been rumblings around the paddock last year that Budkowski set his sights on Aston Martin — meaning this whole shake-up could result in the two midfield rivals sharing a good old-fashioned boss swap. Considering Alpine’s strong performance under Budkowski and Szafnauer’s history of overachieving with Racing Point, both crews would seemingly be in good hands.