Szafnauer: Incorrect set-up decisions cost Alpine in Baku

Jaden Diaz

Otmar Szafnauer had attributed a poor initial set-up to the continued struggles Alpine faced in what proved a catastrophic weekend for the team in Baku.

A reliability failure for Pierre Gasly in practice set the tone for the French outfit’s time in Azerbaijan, before a crash at the beginning of Q1 undid the hard work of Gasly’s mechanics to repair the car.

Esteban Ocon’s running in practice was also limited, as his mechanics made precautionary checks following the failure suffered at the other side of the garage.

Further problems forced Alpine to make changes to Ocon’s car under parc ferme, forcing the 26-year-old to start both the Sprint and Grand Prix from the pits.

Hefty crashes, zero points, and mediocre race pace were all costly for team Enstone in Baku, which will be especially painful considering Szafnauer’s ambitious comments after Australia.

Otmar Szafnauer (USA) Alpine F1 Team, Team Principall in the FIA Press Conference. Australian Grand Prix, Friday 31st March 2023. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.

The Alpine team principal has spoken with confidence about his team’s chances throughout the season, insisting that fourth place in the constructors was still achievable after Bahrain.

Perhaps it is too harsh to criticise Szafnauer for not hitting the panic button on his objectives after the first round.

However, following Alpine’s double DNF in Australia, Szafnauer has also outlined why he believes Alpine can still join the battle for second in the constructors in 2023.

Whilst these ambitions are necessary for any F1 team, such statements can age very poorly if they are not backed up by improved performance on the track.

Speaking after the Baku GP, the Alpine team principal explained why poor set-up was their main limitation:

“It’s been a bitterly disappointing weekend for the team in Baku, and we must not repeat this type of performance again.

Pierre Gasly (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A523. Australian Grand Prix, Friday 31st March 2023. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.

“We very much started on the backfoot on Friday, and since then, we were not able to make any kind of recovery in any of the sessions.

“We were quite far off on car set-up on Friday during practice, and with such limited running – notably with some reliability issues on both cars – we left ourselves with a mountain to climb for the remainder of the weekend.

“We must limit these problems going forward and begin all Grand Prix weekends on the front foot to make sure we give ourselves the best possible chance on Saturday and Sunday to score points.

“We demonstrated our race pace in Australia, and we have a better chance to validate our upgrade package in Miami.”

Set-up has always been a crucial component in Formula 1, with the likes of Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz attributing their early-season struggles to incorrect set-up decisions.

However, the newly implemented Sprint weekend format increases the pressure on teams to do their homework and make the appropriate set-up configurations going into the weekend.

Alpine F1 Team mechanics. Australian Grand Prix, Thursday 30th March 2023. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.

Nico Hulkenberg started the race from the pitlane after making suspension changes to avoid the disastrous tyre wear he suffered in the Sprint, further highlighting this point.

Returning to Alpine, the pressure on the team continues to grow. McLaren’s positive step in Baku has cemented them as F1’s 5th-placed team in the standings.

If Alpine is to become a contender at the front of the field, they must first demonstrate they are capable of leading the ‘midfield’ pack.

Finishing 5th in the standings, which in itself is not guaranteed, would be a backwards step considering where they finished last season.

Focusing on the gap to Red Bull, the men and women at Viry and Enstone will surely be concerned that they are behind their already lenient 100-race schedule to the front of F1.