Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022

Alpine defend prioritising performance over reliability after latest retirement

2022 Mexican Grand Prix

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Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer backed Renault’s decision to prioritise performance over reliability after another engine failure put Fernando Alonso out of the Mexican Grand Prix.

Alonso ran on five cylinders instead of six for almost a fifth of the race, but having run in seventh place he began to slip down the order and then retired.

His team mate Esteban Ocon managed to finish eighth but also had to contend with technical problems. He nursed his car home as a water system problem made it “critical” for him to lift-and-coast for much of the race.

Szafnauer said the race began well for the team until the problems struck. “The race actually planned out as [intended], and it usually doesn’t,” he said.

“But this time it did as we set out in the strategy. Start on the medium tyre, go as long as we can because we knew the medium tyre was a good one, get a good start.

“We knew that if we were to get ahead of the McLarens, the race pace was better than theirs and we could stay there. [Valtteri] Bottas too, we were able to get him, and he started quite a way ahead of us. And once we were ahead of them, it was just about managing.”

However it was not just pace that his drivers had to manage.

“Fernando, for example, was driving at about a second a lap slower than he could have and just managing temperatures, brakes. We knew it was going to be tough to get him to the end. Esteban, on the other hand, did a really good job to come up and get ahead of the McLarens.”

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Ocon’s pace in the second half of the race reinforced Alpine’s strategic decision to switch him to Pirelli’s hard compound tyres at his pit stop, with Alonso making the same switch later in the race.

“[It] would have worked well ’til the end until Fernando had his cylinder issue, which meant he had to stop. We tried to get him to limp home, but eventually he couldn’t. He had that issue for about 13 or 14 laps before we stopped him.”

Alpine don’t know “the root cause” of the issues with Alonso’s internal combustion engine, which was making its last scheduled appearance in his car, nor did they figure out during the race what caused the leak in Ocon’s water system. But the measures Ocon took to control the water pressure not only got him to the finish but also avoided any damage being caused by the fault.

Following the race Alonso claimed his car suffered more technical problems than Ocon’s. Szafnauer pointed out the preparation of their engines is rotated between different staff members.

“We don’t have the same people preparing an ‘Esteban engine’ or a ‘Fernando engine’, they’ll mix around,” he said.

Szafnauer acknowledged Alpine has suffered from unreliability this season. He pointed out that due to the engine development freeze which came into force at the start of the season, Renault can only make reliability improvements, not seek performance gains.

“This is before I was here but I think it was the right decision on the powertrain side,” he said, pointing out Renault chose “to err on the side of performance because the powertrain was going to be frozen.”

“We made a conscious decision to push the performance envelope and fix reliability issues as we got to them, because the FIA allows that,” Szafnauer continued.

“However, we mustn’t forget that we didn’t do it on purpose to not be reliable, but if you have the err on [one] side, you push the performance boundary because you can’t add performance now until 2026.”

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2022 Mexican Grand Prix

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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16 comments on “Alpine defend prioritising performance over reliability after latest retirement”

  1. Unfortunately this has been a familiar tune with Renault/Alpine since 2014. Most of the time they’ve lacked both performance AND reliability. they got away with it for a time because of Honda’s PU but in reality they seem to have been the worst performer in terms of PU’s since the start of the turbo hybrid era.

    Because of that, it really handed Mercedes the chance to coast through quite a bit of the early years because the one team that could’ve provided consistently stiffer competition (sorry Ferrari but you just can’t get your act together) was stuck with their woeful PU’s.

    Even their last few v8 iterations prior to 2014 lacked pure performance compared to their rivals but RBR was able to mask that with great designs and the PU wasn’t as critical as it was from 2014.

    1. I don’t think the Renault engine has been necessarily that far behind on power for the last 5 years. It’s also worth noting that Renault contributed heavily to the success of Red Bull 2010-2013 with the blown diffuser concepts that were entirely dependent on the Renault engine blowing consistent air throughout the entire combustion cycle.

      There is also more to a power unit than the power output. Fuel efficiency, drivability, durability (how long will it perform at well before degrading), reliability, weight, cooling, centre of gravity, gearbox. There will be more incoluding the entire hybrid system performance but I doubt Renault are the worst in all areas so even if they’re not the most powerful they may be making gains elsewhere.

      I actually think all the engines are within 50 hp of each other and likely even closer. I think Alpine’s primary issue is their aero design team and it wouldn’t matter what engine package you gave them until they fix that.

      1. You nailed it on the head @slowmo. Furthermore: RB was using Ferrari engines when Adrian Newey requested to switch to Renault engines.
        It was the only engine capable of blowing even when the driver was not accelerating, increasing the down force. It was used only in qualifications has it stressed the engine a lot. That capability was so effective that the FIA banned off throttle blowing, in an attempt to get field closer (spoiler: it did not).

  2. It doesn’t matter how you mask it. They’re still a works team fighting with b-teams for top 10 positions with no real progression year over year.

    Their engines appear to be faster, at least, but reliability was never good even before when their engines are slow. Honda shows you can come back from much worse in both regards, so that’s not really an excuse either.

  3. Although it seems bonkers to focus on speed rather than reliability (in order to score points you need to finish the race), I can understand why they would.

    The points drop-off rewards higher place finishes (quite rightly), so I can fully see why a team might go balls-to-the-wall in the hope of getting a top 6 finish rather than regular ‘just in the points’ finishes. If a car can manage 3 5th place finishes, that would be 30 points, whereas nibbling at the back and only managing to get into the points a few times might yield only a handful of points.

    Clearly the heartache is also much greater if your power unit goes pop when you’re running in a good points position!

    1. SanFran (@andrewfrancis80)
      2nd November 2022, 18:48

      But the engines are frozen in terms of performance development, however the rules allow for reliability fixes. So to me it makes sense, make it fast then you can (hopefully) sort the reliability later. But the rules don’t allow you to do it the other way round.

      Not saying the Renault are doing this with any success but it’s what I would do.

  4. 13-14 laps, yet he still retired on a runoff area rather than into the pit lane, which would’ve avoided the short VSC neutralization.

    1. 13 laps? They’ve tried that before, with Piquet!

    2. Jere, It is interesting the article says “before we stopped him” and if that’s correct then I think the FIA needs to put a stop to this. Too often we hear teams telling the driver to “stop the car immediately” because they want to save the engine. Unless you are on fire or spilling oil on track, I think stopping on track should be an absolute no-no. However, watching Alonso at Mexico, it looked more like he suddenly lost power and did the best he could to get the car off track which is why I question the “before we stopped him” line from Alpine.

      1. Alonso dropped from 7th position and Ocon overtook him. That was the result of his engine already losing power. Alonso did remark that he had lost 20% of the engine power. That was when he slipped down the order to, I think, 9th. Eventually the situation became terminal, which is why Alonso had to retire. It all happened during the course of a few laps.

    3. The problem is the race directors triggering a VSC or SC no matter how far off the firing line than a local yellow, which is what F1 did forever until about 2019 with no one ever hitting a broken down car. Suddenly, even if a car is 70% behind a catch fence AND its on a straight or the opposite direction to the direction a turn’s momentum would see the cars go, it’s an SC or VSC. It’s a complete joke.

      I agree that there should be some system to dissuade teams/drivers from retiring on the track if they have any warning of a terminal issue.

  5. People are critical but it makes sense on the long run. Last year was the last allowing for engine development. Now, only fixes for reliability or cost issues are permitted. So it was the last time to push for performance, and use the following years to fix reliability.
    Ferrari went for the same strategy for their PU, and it payed off, albeit a few DNFs here and there.

    1. SanFran (@andrewfrancis80)
      2nd November 2022, 18:50

      Exactly this.

      That’s basically what Gary Anderson said on The-Race podcast.

      How successfully Renault are doing it is another question.

    2. Do you know the engine usage figures this year? Is anyone likely to go through the season without exceeding their engine allocation? If no-one’s engine is reliable enough, it suggests the engine builders are going for more power at the expense of reliability.

  6. It always make sense to go for performance over reliability if you’re as far off the pace as Alpine are. I love Alonso and I believe he’s had stunning levels of mechanical bad luck, bad pit stops + bad strategy calls from Alpine, but I highly doubt it was intentional. I just think this year he has driven amazingly and his frustration is boiling over from the fact that he has been so consistently face and during most of his best performances he suffers a failure or a bad pit stop. Ironically, for all of Alonso’s bad luck with unlucky team moves and people crashing into him at the wrong time, he has had stunning reliability over his career. At Ferrari particularly and Renault, his car almost never broke down.

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