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All or nothing: Alpine against McLaren

Daniel Ricciardo at Suzuka, Japan. Source: McLaren F1 Twitter.

Alpine and McLaren are providing Formula 1 fans with a great, close battle on track this year. The two teams are separated by only 13 points in the standings, but their interesting fight portrays off the track, too. 

On track battle

France against Britain, Alpine versus McLaren, the two outfits are battling each other to secure P4 in the constructors’ championship since the first Grand Prix of the season. The margin between the two has always been extremely thin, with Alpine having scored 15 top-ten finishes (10 of them are double) and McLaren 14 of them (and only 5 of those are double). However, the British outfit managed to score a podium at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, unlike its rival.

Analyzing each team’s pace during the winter testing, it seemed pretty clear that overall, Alpine appeared to have a better car. Of course, all the laps and average pace need to be taken into account, because it happened that one of the McLarens set a faster lap than an Alpine at the end of the day. However, if followed closely, it was easy to understand that the French outfit had developed a better package. On the other hand, even though McLaren seemed to struggle more pace-wise, Alpine showed more reliability issues. 

What is more, the power and incredible straight-line speed of the engine built by the French team took many by surprise. It also raised some concerns regarding its durability, and Alpine lost many points during the season due to engine or technical failures. Despite having issues finishing some races, Alpine was faster than McLaren on many circuits, showing its pure performance and demonstrating that the A522 is a fast and solid car. 

Another detail that does not need to be omitted is that both Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon managed to be way more consistent than the McLaren pair of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. This is also shown by the higher number of double points finishes that Alpine has. The Aussie driver struggled to find pace with his McLaren, even though this was already his second year with the team. 

Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon. Source: Alpine.

Off track battle

The latter is an important topic since it perfectly links to the second battle that these two teams are fighting in 2022: the fight off the track. This one does not involve cars, but its focus is purely on the drivers. Having the best pair of drivers for a team is almost as essential as being able to develop a good package and fast machinery. The reason is that a fast driver can also help in improving the performance of the car.

This strange but hard-fought battle started in the middle of the summer, right when Alonso decided that he wanted to part ways with Alpine since they did not reach an agreement that could make the Spaniard happy. However, Alpine was probably not expecting this and its backup plan was not prepared as well as it should have been. The news that Alonso was leaving came out of the blue, and the French outfit immediately thought of signing Oscar Piastri, its young talent. 

Despite its move, Alpine did not achieve the so-hoped result. After posting the not-so-official news of Piastri as their new driver for the 2023 season, the latter completely denied that he signed a deal with the team, letting many people understand that he was probably in talks with another outfit. 

Slowly, it became easier to connect all the dots as Ricciardo officially announced that he would end his contract with McLaren at the end of the 2022 season, convincing even more people that Piastri would be his replacement. It was at this moment that the official war of words between the two teams started. Otmar Szafnauer, Alpine team principal, stated that Oscar was obliged to sign a contract with them since he was their driver (from the Alpine young drivers academy). On the other hand, McLaren claimed to have all the rights to sign the former Formula 2 world champion. 

The matter was then analyzed by the Contract Recognition Board, which confirmed that Piastri could join McLaren, and the official news was finally made public. Despite this, the dispute between Szafnauer and Zak Brown, McLaren’s team principal, did not end. The latter called his colleague “silly” after he made some comments stating that he expected more integrity from Piastri. 

The sad conclusion for Alpine after this long story is that it lost a two-time world champion who could bring talent and knowledge, and a young gun such as Piastri in the span of a month or so. The French team might be ahead in the battle for P4 in the championship but has undoubtedly made mistakes in the management of its future lineup. This must not be underestimated because the drivers in Formula 1 do make the difference between winning or losing. However, Alpine might have saved the situation by managing to sign Pierre Gasly for the following season, building an all-French line-up, which is also young and talented but does not lack some experience.

On McLaren’s side, though, the team can be happy about the off-track win. The British outfit is well aware that if both Norris and Piastri deliver the performance that everyone expects, the team has a bright future ahead. However, the ongoing season is not over yet, and McLaren’s aim must be to beat Alpine on track as well.

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