The race in Jeddah, which Alonso and Hamilton did not want to play after the terrorist attack that took place during free practice, ended up leaving both of them in a situation that, just a month ago, no one at Alpine and Mercedes had taken into account. If the seven-time champion sees his worst start since 2009, the Spaniard also needs urgent solutions for a Renault engine that is several steps behind Ferrari and Honda.
At Viry-Chatillon, the Renault factory 30 kilometers south of Paris, they analyzed every detail of the components that they sold in Jeddah and Bahrain. Two consecutive disappointments for Alonso in just eight days.
Bruno Famin, chosen by Laurent Rossi for the new season and in charge of Viry for just over a month, has not a second to lose. Before leaving the reins to Famin, however, Rossi had left a message which, in the light of the facts, proved to be too enthusiastic.
“Perhaps our engine will not reach the level of Ferrari, but we are certainly still competing with Mercedes and Honda. Our power unit is lighter and narrower than our competitors’ and this allows us to make better use of space“, Rossi had said during an interview with Auto Motor und Sport.”Furthermore, we can use more electricity for a longer period of time“, he added. A few hours later, the image of Alonso furiously hitting the visor of his helmet went around the world.
Indeed, the problems with the RE22 have worried Alpine since the Barcelona test. After the first few days of not pushing with performance, the engine gave way when, presumably, a more powerful and aggressive spec was chosen. This was a big setback for a team that had decided to build their new design around the engine.
“We started in 2019 and first of all we looked at the power unit, because it dictates some key areas from an aerodynamic point of view. We decided to change the structure of the engine and its position in the car“admitted Matt Harman, technical director, a few days ago. The turbo separated into two blocks, imitating the original Mercedes idea, was another risky venture by Remi Taffin, a tremendously respected guy in Viry and a former engineer of track for Alonso, with whom he won his two world championships.
In the engine factory in Paris, the same that built the engines of the five titles won with Williams and the four with Red Bull, veterans such as Cyril Dumont, Stéphane Rodriguez and François Champod took the lead before the new director arrived.
The successes with Peugeot in the Dakar Rally and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as his close contacts with the FIA, where until recently he had worked as chief operating officer, opened the doors to Viry for Famin, the final act of a process in which many engineers were hired repeating, at all hours of the day, that the relaxed atmosphere that led to the unfortunate start of the hybrid era (2014) would not be repeated.
There now the situation seems critical for Famin, who will only have until 1 September to fix all the problems. Since that day, F1 engine development has been frozen until 2026. In other words, no one will be able to implement a solution to improve performance. Only innovations related to reliability will be accepted. So there are no more doubts: even if Honda took six years – between the catastrophic start with McLaren and Max Verstappen’s title with Red Bull – Renault cannot afford another slip.
Alonso, meanwhile, will await news this week from his home in the Swiss city of Lugano. Unlike in the past, the Oviedo-born pilot decided to stay away from the Enston factory. In situations like this, it is best to follow the work remotely.