ABU DHABI: Alpine F1 Team CEO Laurent Rossi has revealed his delight at having Fernando Alonso on the team this year as the two-time world champion from Spain and French team-mate Esteban Ocon prepare for the season finale at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
It was a year ago in Abu Dhabi that Daniel Ricciardo took part in his last race for the team, at the time still Renault. Alonso, Rossi says, has been “phenomenal” to work with.
“I always say, when people asked me that I was anticipating a grenade in my hand, ready to explode,” he said. “Because everyone was telling me you’ll see from Alonso, he’s hard to manage, he’s difficult and his performances are not going in the right direction. And in fact, nothing like that. Nothing at all. First of all, when this guy shows up, you see everyone’s back straightening up. Everyone is like, okay, this is a double world champion. They give their 200 percent best.”
Alonso sits in 10th place in the driver’s standings going into the race at Yas Marina Circuit, with Ocon one place behind.
“So immediately, right off the bat, this guy (Alonso) is bringing the level one notch up,” said Rossi. “And then in terms of a collective dynamic with the engineers, with Esteban, with the rest of the team, it’s phenomenal. I mean, he’s always looking for answers to problems in a very respectful manner, he will ask you 10 times why are you suggesting this or that, but not to put you under the grill, just to get to the bottom of everything.”
Rossi says the whole team has benefited from his presence.
“We’ve really maxed out on the potential of the team collectively, not just the car, the full team, by looking into every single problem and extracting as much performance as we can,” he said. “A lot of credit goes to Fernando, really. Personally, he’s a fantastic person. Honestly, he’s a great guy to work with, perhaps because we have the same approach to performance, which is to ask questions, never hesitate, and don’t leave any door unopened or any stone unturned. And then he’s a super funny person. We have a lot of fun with him, as he’s always up for a joke or something like that. So the dynamic with Fernando is exceptional.”
At the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last week, Ocon, who had already bagged a win at the Hungarian Grand Prix earlier this year, was agonizingly beaten to third place by Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes. Rossi says that in a challenging year for the 25 year old, he has more than proven his worth.
“Well, it’s been very good,” he said. “He’s had a bit of a trouble in terms of performance, but it was mostly the car. And initially, some people, perhaps the team, had a bit of doubt. But then when there were performance troubles … it was the same problems around cooling or some tire adaption. We quickly realized that there was something, a couple of things, we didn’t understand well enough. And that’s when we looked into every single problem and tried to find the answer collectively. And when you isolate those moments and put them aside, Esteban has been delivering a very solid season.”
The 2021 season has ended in a Middle East swing of races in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and Rossi believes that these modern circuits are raising the bar in Formula One.
“It’s great to be racing in this part of the world, because it’s opening to more spectacular tracks that are a bit less conventional,” he said. “All different, which is nice as well. They’re extremely different, the three races. The infrastructure is top quality, which is also very good because we’re struggling in some historical tracks, where the infrastructure is very, very antiquated.
“Honestly, there’s not much we could improve,” Rossi said. “I think it’s more like setting the bar quite high for the others back in the rest of the world, because it makes some races look very old, compared to the ones in the in the Middle East. So I think it’s good for the sport because it shows where we should be heading.”
Jeddah Corniche Circuit — which Rossi called “a Monaco on high-speed track” — delivered a dramatic, accident-interrupted race last week, and this weekend, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be contested on a Yas Marina Circuit reconfigured — at three key areas — for the first time since 2009.
“It’s good for at least two reasons,” Rossi said. “One is it becomes a new track for most of the drivers, for all the drivers, in fact, so they have to relearn the track, which is always good. They make progress throughout the weekend, getting to know the track better. And also, overall, it seems like it’s more conducive to overtakes and probably going to give this track even more of the entertainment aspect.”
Rossi called Yas Marina Circuit a “beautiful track with a beautiful setting.”
He added: “But if on top of that it becomes an exciting one on the driving side with a bit of overtake, it’s going to become probably one of the highlights of the season.”
Looking ahead, Rossi said that his targets are consistent improvement, season after season.
“We’re on the roadmap to get back on top of the podiums by the end of the regulation era, which is to say, about four years from now,” he said. “This means constant progress. And it’s important because the team has already made progress this year, and even though the car didn’t evolve so much, we certainly made a lot of progress as a team … to improve the performance with a given car. So that’s very good. We want to continue that and obviously improve the car as well next year, which will enable us to climb the ladder, one step at a time.
“The most important thing is from wherever we start next year, to make progress race after race, season after season,” Rossi concluded. “For me, that’s the dynamic. I won’t deviate from the plan. I’m not going to change anything dramatically as of race number three — if we’re 16, for instance, as long as I see progress back to where we want to be. So that’s the idea.”