Continuing the team reviews for the 2021 season. Going in reverse Constructor’s Championship order, it is Alpine Renault F1 Team. View the previous teams here:-
10. Haas Ferrari
5th in 2020 but with 3 podiums had felt like a step forward for the Renault (now Alpine) team.
Coming into 2021, the team had lost their star driver Daniel Ricciardo, but had replaced him with Fernando Alonso. The team had also rebranded from Renault to their sports marque brand Alpine. A striking new livery formed part of the rebrand.
All the noise coming from the team is that they would take a further step forward towards the front of the grid in 2021.
Alpine had used their development tokens at the back of the car, looking for greater rear stability.
At pre-season testing, a lot of eyes were on the team. An innovative engine cover design and engine packaging from Alpine stood out in comparison to the others.
Alpine had moved the radiators vertically up so they could slim the car side pods further for aero efficiency. Narrow side pods is a direction a lot of teams have taken but not to this extreme. The result was a fairly bulbous engine cover around the air intake because this is where the radiators had been moved to.
The team says having the parts further up negatively impacts the centre of gravity. However, the aero improvement was estimated to be greater than the loss from the centre of gravity.
It was a very different approach which no other team had attempted.
Alpine are now the only team using Renault engines. Generally viewed as the weakest in the turbo hybrid era. Not having a customer team could allow more focus to be applied to Alpine, but could also lose them valuable data.
Fernando Alonso joined the team at 39 years old after 2 years out of the sport. Nobody doubted his talent but would he still have the overall speed of his youth or would it have diminished like Kimi’ Raikkonen’s?
Their other driver, Esteban Ocon, also came into the season with something to prove. Ocon had been clearly beaten by Ricciardo the previous year. 2021 was going to be a year he aimed to rebuild his reputation.
A lot of questions surrounded Alpine at the start of the year. There was a lot of pressure on whether the season would be seen as a success or a failure.
Testing was strong, but not spectacular for Alpine. The timings seemed to show that Alpine were further in the midfield than they had been last year. Not the step forward the team had hoped for. However, all testing times should be taken with a pinch of salt as it’s difficult to directly compare teams and times.
The first race of the season looked like Alonso was picking up where he left off!
A strong qualifying and race had him in a strong position to score points. Until a plastic wrapper got stuck in his radiator and caused the engine to overheat. As a result, Alonso had to retire from the race.
The following races had the team generally battling for the final point scoring places. After a great first race it seemed that Alonso was slightly slower than Ocon. However, the positions were not where the team thought they would be.
In Portugal, the team had a very strong weekend. Better than other weekends in the first third of the season. Alonso, later in the season, suggested that the longer sweeping corners of the track favoured their car.
Ask Alpine directly and they will tell you they just don’t have an answer to why. Not a great sign for a team wanting to move up the grid. Knowing why a car behaves as it does is important for fixing weaknesses and making improvements.
Baku was a good race for Alonso. The red flag and two lap sprint allowed him to show he still had race craft and can still be strong wheel to wheel. Baku was also a turning point for Alonso who admitted he was getting more and more comfortable in the car.
Silverstone brought the first sprint race. Alonso starting 11th took the softer tyres compared to others on the medium. A great start and some clever overtaking had him up to 5th before the tyres degraded and he finished 7th. It remains one of the highlights of this years sprint races.
Hungary was a big race for the team. The first lap collisions coupled with Mercedes getting their tyre change wrong resulted in Ocon leading the race. A slightly slow pitstop from Aston Martin meant he was never really under pressure from the chasing Vettel, especially as the track is notorious for being difficult to overtake on.
However, Hamilton was charging up the grid, three seconds a lap quicker than everyone else on some laps!
It looked to everyone that Hamilton would get the win he was going so much quicker and was therefore able to overtake. But for 10 laps Alonso showed a defensive masterclass, keeping the far quicker Hamilton behind and stopping his progress.
Ocon went on to win the race, but Alonso won many fans around the world for incredible driving. Showing new and younger viewers why he is seen as one of the sport’s great drivers.
After the high point, the team returned to battling for lower points finishes, except for a few notable results.
The team scored strong 4th/5th position at Zandvoort, Sochi and Saud Arabi. Alonso finally got himself on the podium at Qatar with an impressive 3rd place. Ocon returning the favour of Hungary, to a lesser degree, by defending from Perez for a couple of corners.
These strong races were tracks with long sweeping corners, like Portugal.
The win for Ocon clearly stands out but it was a product of circumstances. The high point of Hungary was Alonso’s defensive driving from Hamilton. The cheering at the track for every lap he managed to defend was deafening!
It won Alonso and Alpine a lot of fans around the world. Alonso’s podium in Qatar is the real high point because so many people wanted to see him back on the podium. Old and new fans alike.
Alpine also managed a viral success towards the end of the season. Alonso and the team talking about their ‘El Plan’ which went viral on social media. Even appearing on the car at the last race at Abu Dhabi! No one really knows what ‘El Plan’ is, even Alonso who coined the phrase! But it was a nice light note for the team to end the season on.
Alonso scored plenty of highs, but is probably the recipient of the biggest low for the team.
The Alpine was strong in the race. Alonso looked set for his first podium since re-joining the sport.
Until the rain came down and the team were unlucky with the timing of the pitstop. An almost nailed on podium for Alonso became 6th. After the race the disappointment on Alonso’s face was clear to see.
As a manufacturer funded team. Renault would be expecting that Alpine will be challenging at the front of the grid.
Well that will be the aim anyway. Using their 100 race ‘El Plan’ to get themselves back to the front. It will require a lot of effort to achieve this though. The engine still remains the weakest on the grid, following Ferrari’s improvements.
A well funded team that doesn’t know the reasons behind its car performance, is unlikely to find the innovative solution to new regulations.
Having Alonso as a driver does mean there is always the chance of magic happening, given the right circumstances!
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