The rumor that Alpine could sign Ottmar Szafnauer It had been circulating for a long time, but it has only intensified when the French team announced yesterday that Marcin Budkowski He left the team with immediate effect. Although many assumed that Szafnauer could end up at Alpine, it was not so clear that it was at the expense of the position of Budkowski, the de facto head of Fernando Alonso’s team.
This past season Alpine already had a direction that was at least peculiar, since the traditional tasks of what is known in the world as ‘main team’ were divided between Davide Brivio, who was in charge of the sporting and organizational part, and Budkowski who directed all the technical and operational business. We don’t know behind closed doors how well or how badly this singular ‘bicephaly’ has worked, but the reality is that Enstone’s competitive plan has worked frankly well.
At the level of strategies, pit stops, mechanical reliability, communication and marketing, Alpine has performed above average. It only remained to have a more competitive car and engine, but even in this area the signs of progress were encouraging. What reason can there be to change, when things seem to work? Just a couple of months ago in this same medium we highlighted the value of team stability, and we even questioned the inconvenience of making many changes when things work. Something ‘big’ must have happened internally for the team leadership to be changed, just a month before the new season starts shooting.
Rossi, new interim boss
Alpine’s official statement by its CEO Laurent Rossi clarified quite a bit, as is usual in these cases: “I would like to thank Marcin Budkowski for his commitment and contribution to the team’s results over the last four years. The team is totally focused on preparing the car for the first race in Bahrain and offering a step further in performance,” commented Rossi laconically, who will lead the team on an interim basis until his replacement arrives.
Substitute or redefinition of the organizational structure? Because another option could be to take advantage of this movement to return to a more classic address in the hands of a person. Should Ottmar Szafnauer finally arrive, he could report to Davide Brivio or vice versa. Here it will be necessary to see how the egos are managed and what both are willing to accept or give up at this point in their respective professional careers. However, Alpine is a unique team in Formula 1 in that it has two locations, one for operations and chassis construction in Enstone (UK) and one for engine manufacturing and, let’s call it ‘politics’, in Viry-Chatillon ( France). There would be room for ‘two bosses’, therefore.
Mercedes, with chassis and engines manufactured in different locations, the geographical proximity and strictly operational function of both in the United Kingdom means that they operate as if they were under the same roof, as can also be the case with Ferrari. Budkowski is an engineer by training, but Szafanauer could be the ideal person to lead the engine section in France and leave Brivio free to lead the rest of the team alone. Scenarios still uncertain, because it remains to be confirmed that Szafnauer will finally land in Alpine after having left just a few days ago Aston Martin. It is even assumed that Budkowski himself will now fill his vacancy at Aston Martin!
In Formula 1, all these transfers of personnel between teams can also involve possible revelations of secrets, since most of the teams are located in the ‘valley of Milton Keynes’. Changing teams in the UK hardly means putting on a different shirt, because your kids still go to the same school, shop at the same supermarket and have beers after work at the same pub. Oh, if the walls of English pubs could talk!
At the moment, it seems necessary to investigate the reason for a change in Alpine’s management if there were apparently no compelling reasons for a change. The reason probably lies in the management of egos and the corresponding display of authority by bosses. Knowing the background of the story, it would not be surprising that Luca de Meo, new top boss of Renault, have wanted through Laurent Rossi make it very clear to both Budkowski and the rest of the organization who’s boss. Just a year ago around this time, Marcin Budkowski was expected to take on the role of ‘Team Principal’ with Alpine in 2021 following the unexpected departure of the hitherto untouchable. Cyril Abiteboul. But that role was divided between the Polish engineer and the newcomer Davide Brivio, man of the absolute confidence of Luca de Meo.
Budkowski has not made cohabitation easy for Brivio who, humble as he is, has not wanted to punch the table any more in the face of someone else, letting the team see that, directly or indirectly, Brivio was little more or less than ‘the boss’s informer’ although he was the one who was really in charge. Perhaps Budkowski believed that his time had come to have full powers, but perhaps at some point he tightened the rope more than it should with the dome and his departure is now the result.
With the arrival of Brivio as team manager at Alpine, the unexpected two-headed leadership was announced separately and not simultaneously. An obvious sign that Budkowski had to ask for explanations or even threaten to leave if what he considered an unacceptable rejection was not resolved. The pragmatism of Luca de Meo, or perhaps that of Laurent Rossi, invited prudence and the search for a compromise solution so as not to suffer an earthquake in the team at such a key moment nomenclature transition from ‘Renault’ to ‘Alpine’.
With time, the Rossi-de Meo tandem perhaps found in Szafnauer the ideal replacement and, once the signing was tied, they would exact their revenge and mark the exit door for the Pole. Do not forget that when someone leaves a team (it is always assumed) they must respect a ‘gardening’ time (not competition). Something should not work in Alpine because if the thing worked despite the friction or overlap between bosses, why touch it!