F1: What does Abiteboul’s exit mean for Alonso?
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
From this season, Renault’s sister brand, Alpine will take over its spot on the grid and it was expected that Cyril Abiteboul would continue as Team Principal but in a shock announcement, Abiteboul has departed.
As a long-time Renault employee, Abiteboul rose through the ranks and stayed loyal to the team during its various guises in the sport. Since its manufacturer return in 2016, Abiteboul took sole leadership in 2017. Under the leadership of Abiteboul, Renault lifted itself from ninth in 2016 to sixth in 2017 and went onto finish fourth the following year.
SHOCK: Abiteboul (pictured) thanked Renault for trusting over the relaunch and reconstruction of the team since 2016.
However, the team has struggled to reach its goals and achieve what they set out to do since returning and a slump to fifth in 2019 continued into last year.
In a new shake-up by new CEO Luca de Meo, who joined from SEAT last year, Abiteboul is out and his replacement is to be announced in due course. His exit may be a huge concern for one of its drivers; Double World Champion Fernando Alonso.
Alonso is returning after taking a semi-retirement from the sport having left in 2018 after a disastrous second stint at McLaren. The passionate Spaniard, who announced his comeback in early July last year, has already tested F1 machinery and been part of the race operations – travelling with the team to numerous races towards the end of the season. He participated in the F1 Young Driver test in Abu Dhabi, days after the final race, to gain more of an understanding of the car that he will step into this year and even suggested that the team worked over the winter break when the factory is supposed to be shut.
Alonso won both of his World Championships with Renault in 2005 and 2006 - ending a period of utter dominance when the unstoppable combination of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari won five championships on the trot. Alonso is a warrior and a fierce competitor having nearly beaten every single teammate he has had. He is seen a complete driver using his talents to tame any type of machinery and getting the best out of it.
FLASHBACK: Alonso reunited with his 2005 title-winning car alongside Abiteboul in Abu Dhabi.
As always the case in F1, a driver makes a number of decisions whether or not to join a team. It’s not just based on salary but the structure of the team, where the team is financially and where the team is in terms of performance.
Abiteboul is credited in playing a key role in tempting Alonso to join Alpine for this season and but now that one of the key people who was there negotiating contracts, building up a working relationship, is no longer there, what effect will this have on Alonso? There are famous recent examples of when this succeeds but also when it fails.
When it works well….very well
It’s 2012 and coming up to the Singapore GP which is in the last third of the season. Lewis Hamilton is at McLaren where to date, he’s only won one Championship in 2008. This year, he’s had a number of reliability issues which has cost him a number of potential podiums and race wins. He puts the car on Pole Position for the race and come Sunday, he’s leading until his gearbox fails on Lap 22. He’s distraught. He dejectedly walks away from his car with his head hanging down, his gloves still on and his championship challenge effectively over.
That weekend, he had been having conversations with Non-Executive Chairman of Mercedes and Three Time World Champion Niki Lauda. Team Principal Ross Brawn and Toto Wolff, now current Team Principal, were also heavily involved. Hamilton, in need of a “fresh challenge” signed for the Silver Arrows.
The combination of Hamilton, Wolff and Lauda is now famous and is regarded as one of the best driver/management relationships in the history of F1. After Lauda’s death in 2019, Hamilton cited the Austrian as one of the reasons he left McLaren for Mercedes.
In Hamilton’s case, he joined Mercedes at the right time in 2013 – one year before the Hybrid era came into force in 2014 where Hamilton has gone on to become one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time.
When it doesn’t work well
Red Bull. The team that had dominated the early 2010’s were now struggling with the new Hybrid era regulations and star driver, Sebastian Vettel, is being outshone by new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Vettel, the youngest World Champion in the history of the sport has already Four World Championships to his name but “Baby Schumi”, his nickname because of his comparisons to Michael Schumacher, fails to win and only manages a handful of podiums.
Red Bull and Vettel terminate his contract one year early allowing the German to achieve nearly every F1 drivers’ dream – of racing for Ferrari. A seat opens up at the Scuderia as Alonso leaves for McLaren.
Luca di Montezemolo, then President of Ferrari, saw Vettel as the “chosen one” and was one of the key people in recruiting and enticing him away from Red Bull. However, he never got to see Vettel race in red as he resigned following tensions with the FIAT Chrysler CEO in September 2014. Vettel joined in 2015 with new management and a different Ferrari team he was expecting when he signed.
The six year marriage that was supposed to stop Hamilton and Mercedes in their tracks ended in 2020 with Vettel now off to join the rebranded Aston Martin F1 Team. It was a combination of poor management, dreadful strategy decisions and a couple of high profile driver errors from Vettel’s side that stopped the Prancing Horse from achieving glory.
What Alpine’s new management must do
The task for whoever takes on the role of Team Principal of Alpine is to keep Alonso happy. He hasn’t come back to fight in the midfield and maybe get the chance to nab a few podium finishes which Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon did last year. These first podiums are too late in the trajectory that Renault wanted hence Alpine taking over and starting from scratch.
With Alonso on-board, new management and a new structure for the team, Alpine will be targeting 2022 when the new regulations fully come into effect that they will be up there at the fore-front and Alonso will be fighting for the World Championship.