Fernando Alonso is on his way to securing a seat in the Alpine team next season, said general manager Laurent Rossi.
Rossi has revealed that Alonso is under a “one plus one” contract this season, with an option the team can take for 2022.
“He’s doing very well,” Rossi told BBC Sport.
“He’s faster than ever. He certainly gets the most out of the car.”
Rossi added: “The car is not blazingly fast and he still manages to do some really hot laps and qualifies the car very well. So far so good.”
When asked if Alonso will be staying for 2022, Rossi said: “He’s doing everything I can to consider exercising this [contractual] option.”
Alonso back in F1 this season after two years of absence in other categories. After admitting that he was not at the highest level in qualifying during the first races, the two-time champion achieved a series of good performances.
These include a leading role in last weekend’s new British Grand Prix ‘sprint’ race, in which Alonso moved from 11th to fifth place in the first lap in overtaking six cars in nine turns.
The Spaniard, who turns 40 on July 29, is the best alpine rider in the championship, in 11th place with 26 points against his teammate Esteban Ocon with 14 points in 13th.
Early in his career, Alonso carved out a reputation for himself as a demanding character within a team.
But in an exclusive interview, Rossi said: “It’s incredibly easy to work with him so far. It’s been six months and I don’t recognize the Fernando people are describing.
“We both expect the same from the team. Always questioning any decision, any status quo, to systematically take it up a notch: ‘It’s never enough. Getting a point is not not good. Getting two points is not good. When that happens, it is not enough. To finish first – we have to continue to be first. ‘ I like this attitude.
“It challenges everyone all the time, but with a lot of respect. And he can do it because he’s proven himself, so it’s not like he wants to shirk responsibility.”
To defend the Ocon agreement
The terminology Rossi uses to describe the likelihood of Alonso remaining at Alpine for 2022 is exactly the same he used shortly before signing a new three-year deal with Ocon until 2024.
The decision raised eyebrows in F1 as the Frenchman has yet to prove himself as a top driver, but Rossi says he has no doubts about the decision.
He stressed that most of the top drivers are committed to their teams for the long haul and said he thought the 24-year-old was “really good”, “has a lot of talent that is not yet exploited “and that” signing it is essentially taking near zero risk “.
Rossi added: “He might not be a guaranteed world champion. Who can be overtaken that way? Not a lot of riders at the moment.
“I wouldn’t let anyone say he’s a poorer driver than Carlos [Sainz of Ferrari] or one of the so-called second riders of the best teams.
“So at the very least I have a great second driver myself, and I honestly think he has what it takes to be a top driver.”
Rossi has said it is too early to commit to Alonso beyond 2022.
But he added that “it will be a rich man’s problem if at the end of 2022 I have tastes [Alpine young drivers Oscar] Piastri [and Guanyu] Zhou knocks on the door and at the same time Fernando wins race after race. At least I have those options. “
Concerns about team performance
Alpine experienced a drop in performance in 2021. Last year, when they were called Renault, they finished fifth and got three podiums. This year, they are seventh in the championship after 10 races, nine points behind Alpha Tauri in fifth place. Their best result was Alonso’s sixth place in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Alpine says the development of their 2021 car has been affected by issues with its wind tunnel over the winter and that they hope for a big step forward in 2022, when a major change in F1 technical regulations come in. in force.
But Rossi said: “I would be lying if I said I was completely fine and reassured because obviously a lot of the team that produced this car will always do the next one, so if we don’t change a few things and don’t don’t change course, we’ll get the same results, but we do.
He said Alpine was making operational changes at the plant and on the runway and had recruited more staff.
“I am confident that we can do better than this year because it is not a satisfactory performance,” he said. “The seventh is not where we want to be. If we finish there, even though we knew the car wouldn’t be the world champion, it will still be a disappointment.”
“We don’t need to win, but we want to”
Alpine has been renamed this season to promote Renault’s niche sports car brand, which the French auto giant is trying to develop. Rossi, who runs the entire Alpine business, said the move had already been a success.
“We have a 70% increase in inquiries around the brand and sales are pretty much on the same trend,” he said. “So we are on a very good trajectory.
When asked if that meant winning wasn’t a requirement in F1, he replied: “We don’t need [to win] but we’re not here just to have a name on the building and be happy with it.
“We want to win. At first it’s good to be here and use the platform, but then we have to show a progression because more and more people will get used to it and start to assimilate the performance. on the track to performance in the car. It’s Ferrari’s “win Sunday, sell Monday” recipe, for example. “
Respond to management questions
Following the rebranding, there was a restructuring of the team leadership, which was questioned as it differs from all the other teams, which have a recognized boss who travels to the races and works in the ‘factory.
Former team principal and general manager of Renault Sport Cyril Abiteboul left the company. He was replaced by Rossi as general manager, with a dual management team reporting to him executive director Marcin Budkowski – who leads the technical part of the team – and new recruit Davide Brivio as race director.
Brivio, the former Suzuki MotoGP team boss, is close to Renault CEO Luca de Meo.
Brivio’s role is to lead the team at the edge of the track. He is based in Dubai and has only visited the Enstone factory in Oxfordshire a handful of times so far this season. Some F1 observers have questioned whether its role is necessary.
Rossi said: “Before we had a team manager, whose role was to oversee the track and the factory. The reality was that it was difficult for him to do both. It is difficult for anyone to do it nowadays. “
He added: “The responsibilities are well mapped. Of course, when you have three people, you have to split up at the junction of certain problems. [But] so far it has worked very well.
“We have a system in place for the race. The usual suspects are still in charge. Alan Permane is the sporting director. He knows his job very well. He is still the man running the show on the [pit] Wall.
“There’s always a strategy guy, Mathieu Dubois, who is also running the show, and the two of them make decisions. They just have the technical side of Marcin and the track side Davide who can help deliver a bit more. senior decision, if necessary.
“But the truth is, it happens very rarely and it works very well so far. I oversee all of this and can divide myself by looking at operations and technical development when I need it, but also integrate it into more business-oriented decisions. “