If it goes to “AUTOhebdo”, Sebastian Vettel could soon lose his previous team boss at Aston Martin to Fernando Alonso. Because the French specialist publication currently reports that Otmar Szafnauer could switch to Alpine instead of the previous race director Davide Brivio.
Brivio had only come to Alpine from Suzuki’s MotoGP program as race director in the 2021 season, but did not appear publicly in his role. His counterpart in the dual leadership, Executive Director Marcin Budkowski, is much more present.
The first rumors surfaced in October that Brivio might be drawn back to MotoGP after just one year. Almost at the same time, Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi, the boss of Brivio and Budkowski, announced that he would like to restructure the Formula 1 team in order to lead it to the top within 100 races.
“We are now part of the ‘Best of the Rest’, but to really catch up with the very best, we may need a different structure,” said Rossi on the sidelines of the Mexican Grand Prix. “I’m still evaluating, but there could be changes at the end of the season. First of all we are concentrating on finishing this season and getting fifth place in the World Cup.”
Is there a crisis between Szafnauer and Stroll?
Szafnauer would be an obvious candidate for the Brivio position. The American has successfully led Force India and Racing Point for years. At Aston Martin, however, the pressure to succeed under his new boss Lawrence Stroll is enormous. And it is rumored that Szafnauer has lost a bit of joy among the new team owners.
Many observers had the impression that he was reluctant to have to put Sergio Pérez in front of the door at the end of 2020 despite an existing contract in order to be able to hire the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel at Stroll’s insistence. Ironically, the Pérez who played a decisive role in the survival of the team and Stroll’s takeover with his bankruptcy application in the summer of 2018.
Szafnauer was later smiled at for the way he doggedly defended Aston Martin’s position that the rule change with the trimmed underbody was an injustice to slow down Mercedes and Aston Martin. According to hearsay, Szafnauer had to take a position that he himself was not convinced of.
These are a few clues; the facts for a possible move from Aston Martin to Alpine are still thin. After all: Aston Martin would probably cope with a possible departure from Szafnauer. Since October 1st, Szafnauer has been reporting to the former McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh, whom Stroll has hired as CEO for Aston Martin Performance Technologies.
In Mexico, Szafnauer explained that Whitmarsh was currently still busy getting to know the sports car manufacturer and the Formula 1 team Aston Martin (he is responsible for both): “We are 600 people. He has spent a lot of time in recent weeks Getting to know the senior staff and having long meetings with them. “
“He already knew some of the people from his time in Formula 1. But he has never worked with very few people,” says Szafnauer. “He is there to help us. There is a lot to be done at the strategic level. We are currently building a new campus, hiring people, building processes that a small team would not necessarily have needed, but those in a large team are necessary. “
Szafnauer emphasizes: Was also with a large team!
“He comes from a big team, he was with McLaren. I was also with one of the biggest teams at the time, Honda,” emphasizes the 57-year-old. “But we were a small team in the end, and there were things that we didn’t have. We have to build them up now. There is a lot to do.”
The (unconfirmed) corridor radio in the Formula 1 paddock to the rumors about a possible farewell goes like this: Szafnauer is popular in the team and is valued by his closest employees. But he is said not to be taken with Stroll’s way of leading the team, and Stroll is not said to be convinced that Szafnauer is the right man for the billion dollar business he wants to transform Aston Martin into.
On the other hand, with Rossi at Alpine there is a CEO whose ideas are perhaps more compatible with how Szafnauer would lead a Formula 1 team. And in the position of race director at Alpine, Szafnauer could concentrate on what he can do best: to lead a racing team without having to worry too much about the business.
In any case, Alpine’s ambitions are great. Rossi would like to be victorious within the next 100 races and in the best case even win a World Championship: “We don’t shy away from saying it like that,” he says. “Renault has won a lot of titles. We have everything it takes to get back there. It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. But we really believe it is possible.”
A fundamental difference to the Renault development years under Cyril Abiteboul is said to be that the group is now really behind the Formula 1 program. CEO Luca de Meo is clearly committed to the premier class. His predecessor Carlos Ghosn was also an avowed Formula 1 fan, but a financial scandal involving himself and the global economic crisis triggered by Corona brought the group into troubled waters.
Renault had “had difficult times,” admits Rossi: “We’re slowly getting out of there now, and hopefully that means a little more stability and a slightly longer leash.” In addition, through the introduction of the budget ceiling, “it is clear that the investments are more or less the same as with other teams”.
“Now it comes down to efficiency, experience and common sense,” says Rossi. These are criteria that sound very much like Szafnauer to the ears of many. He learned efficiency at Force India, Szafnauer has had Formula 1 experience since 1998 (joining BAR), and making decisions with common sense instead of always strictly and bureaucratically according to some business criteria is also a discipline that suits him …