Alpine might be one of the most curious cases on the Formula 1 grid. The team is still in effect the factory Renault outfit, but for whatever reason the French car company decided to rename its Formula 1 team. Why? Well, no one is really sure. Especially after they signed Fernando Alonso to replace McLaren bound Daniel Ricciardo for the 2021 season. But the fact the team was able to bring Alonso back into F1 was a sign that the Spaniard believed in their ambitions to get back to the front.
Paired up with Esteban Ocon, Alonso and Alpine had a solid 2021. They finished fifth in the constructors' championship, which maintained their finish from 2020. But after pre-season testing for the 2022 season, it's difficult to have any idea where the French team might stack up. Talk of a new and radical engine for 2022 adds some excitement and the engine has been reliable in testing, but no one really knows what to expect from Alpine when it comes to the pecking order. The term El Plan came to define the possible future success for Alonso, Ocon, and the team. But will El Plan actually come to fruition?
An Interesting 2020 And 2021 Seasons
The past two years for the Alpine team were interesting. Ricciardo scored Renault’s first podiums in its F1 return at the Nürburgring and Imola in 2020, which ultimately could be the brand's last as a proper named works team after the F1 team became Alpine. Ocon was retained after returning to F1 with Renault in 2020 and took a second place finish at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Alonso was brought in to replace the McLaren bound Ricciardo, and 2021 did prove to be a mixed bag.
Alpine started the year slowly but gradually got better and better before Ocon took a sensational win at the Hungarian Grand Prix. It was fortuitous, yes, but he worked hard for it, and it was just reward for an outstanding drive. Alonso took his first F1 podium since 2014 at the Qatar Grand Prix, and Ocon was unlucky to miss out on a second podium at the line in Jeddah. Fifth place overall for the team in the championship was a solid result given the competitive nature of the field, but now things must really improve to show that Alpine actually mean business.
A Dynamic Driver Lineup
Alonso and Ocon are an interesting lineup. When Alonso was signed up for 2021, many wondered if it was the right move. Should Alpine have signed a younger driver? Should Alonso even come back, and would he be on the pace? Well, after a sluggish start Alonso was very much on the pace, and silenced all his doubters. Ocon had a rough 2020 but bounced back strong in 2021 and the win in Hungary will certainly have boosted the very likable Frenchman. Plus, he and Alonso seem to get along very well.
That last point will be key, as Alpine are very much still rebuilding and looking at a longer term plan. So for now at least, team harmony is key as they aim to become at least a more regular podium finisher. And there is no doubting the talents behind the wheels of the cars, as Alonso and Ocon are two of the best drivers on the grid. Testing in Barcelona for the squad didn’t go quite to plan though, with DRS meaning they looked down on top end speed and there a hydraulic failure ruined the entire final day of that first test.
Bouncing Back In Bahrain
Alpine though did bounce back okay in Bahrain. The new A522 was certainly more reliable in Bahrain, and there were some flashes of pace from both Ocon and Alonso. The team was also happy with the reliability of its new engine, but it's difficult to read how much performance it has, as they certainly didn’t turn it up to full power. The pecking order right now looks to have a top three of Red Bull, Ferrari and Aston Martin, with McLaren possibly just behind them. Alpine could find themselves in a tight midfield battle, but the safe bet is that Aston Martin is ahead of that battle for what could be fifth place overall. So who knows where the French team stacks up.
El Plan Ready For Action
The team and drivers are certainly ready to put El Plan into action. And F1 fans will be salivating at having Alonso further up the field, and to see more of what Ocon can do. Plus, it's certainly time that El Plan got serious, and became more than just a Twitter joke in which its origins are sort of unknown. But either way, Alpine have to show some progress in 2022. But predicting where they actually are is going to be as tricky as predicting where this season will go as a whole thanks to the radical overhaul to the cars from 2021, to 2022. We just don’t know.
Sources: Reddit, Autosport, Alpine