After staying relatively anonymous during testing, Alpine faced difficulties in both qualifying and race at the Bahrain GP.
A series of accumulating penalties derailed a promising P9 qualifying for Esteban Ocon, whilst a poor grid start for Pierre Gasly made his Bahrain GP a question of damage limitation.
However, Gasly’s impressive recovery to finish in P9 was indicative of the potential in Alpine’s A523, which seems capable of leading the midfield pack.
Whilst a manufacturer team like Alpine should aim to push the front-runners, it seems there is at least something for the team to build upon in 2023.
Unfortunately for Szafnauer’s team, the A523’s foundation seems unlikely to finish any higher than 5th in the standings – at least based on the team’s performance in round 1.
The French squad was very optimistic going into this season, with Esteban Ocon describing last year’s A522 as a “toy” compared to the 2023 machine.
However, there is a significant gap to the top four teams – with Aston Martin’s rapid ascension cementing the failure at Viry and Enstone to build a contending car.
Speaking after the Bahrain GP, Otmar Szafnauer remains optimistic that Alpine can still fight to reach their target of 4th place, as quoted by motorsport.com:
“I think we were about 16 behind Bottas at that point, and we caught him but couldn’t overtake in the end. So I think that stint worked well.
“Looking at it from an optimistic standpoint, and say if Pierre had started ninth, we would have beaten Bottas for sure.
“How close would we have been to the Mercedes, and I think Stroll? They were 16 seconds ahead of us, [so] we need to have a look.
“Now we just need to out-develop them, so we can close the gap to those guys we want to bear…
“And if that happens, Pierre qualifies where he can qualify, and we’ve got both of them in the top 10, then I think we’ll score plenty of points, and then we’ll fight for fourth.”
Szafnauer’s optimism is not entirely misplaced, as a more operationally efficient race weekend could have delivered better results in Bahrain.
That said, even an optimised race weekend is unlikely to see Alpine make the desired jump to disrupt the top teams at this stage of 2023.
Mercedes and Ferrari are both in a painful period of adjustment of introspection, but it seems unlikely Alpine will be able to capitalise on this – at least for now.
The French team developed reasonably well last year, so their ability to progress mid-season should not be discarded.
Still, development is relative in Formula 1 – so Szafnauer’s squad must prove it can make up lost ground and outperform its rivals.