Alpine headed into this weekend’s returning Japanese Grand Prix in desperate need of a really good result for both Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, after both drivers suffered engine failures at last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.
The “unbelievable” double DNF for the Enstone-based team was made even more miserable for them with their rivals, McLaren, having a somewhat perfect weekend.
Whilst neither Alpine finished, McLaren secured a four-five finish, for their best result of the season.
Following on from their impressive double top five finish, McLaren leapfrogged Alpine in the battle for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, with the Woking-based team now boasting a four-point lead.
Engine problems really have been the downfall of Alpine’s season, with Alonso having already faced two grid penalties for additional engine component parts.
It comes as no surprise that Alpine have suffered issues with their Renault power units, after CEO Laurent Rossi admitted that he wanted “maximum performance” to be prioritised over reliability.
“I’d rather have a power unit where I can be sure maximum performance has been teased out than sit there comfortably with a reliable power unit that doesn’t perform,” said Rossi during pre-season.
Rossi’s direction for the power unit has certainly cost the team, and it’ll be interesting to see where the blame is pointed to should they not claim fourth in the Constructors’ this season.
Alpine’s chief technical officer Pat Fry has seemingly suggested that the team did get “caught out” by their audacious approach with the power unit, even if it does offer a “huge amount” of performance.
“There are always teething problems,” Fry told Motorsport.com.
“Obviously we took a lot on this year, changing a huge amount. And we are a huge amount better off in terms of performance for what was done over the last couple of years really.
“Some great work has gone on but it was always done knowing we would chase performance, and reliability we would fix. And I think that’s a courageous way about moving forward, isn’t it? Every now and then you get caught out, as everyone does.”
After Alonso’s retirement from sixth and Ocon’s from outside the points, it was initially thought that the pair had experienced the same power unit problem; however, Fry has astonishingly revealed that the two drivers experienced “different problems”, giving the French team multiple issues to be concerned about.
“They were different problems,” he said.
“The engines were back on Tuesday lunchtime, stripped and understood and we are working on it.
“The issues are relatively new, I would say. They need to be understood and until you dig into what the root cause is, you are never quite sure, are you? So you’ve got to do your analysis properly.”
Alonso’s Japanese Grand Prix has at least started very well, after the Spaniard topped FP1 in extremely wet conditions.
The 41-year-old isn’t expecting to take another power unit grid penalty this weekend but thinks one will occur soon, for what will embarrassingly be his third engine-related grid penalty of the year.
Fry doesn’t want to speculate on a potential grid penalty at a future race until they’ve diagnosed the issues with both driver’s power unit, but admitted they “need to have a think” about a possible penalty for the double World Champion.
“I think until we understand the problem it’s hard to answer that question truthfully, to be honest,” Fry added.
“I honestly don’t know. At the moment, I don’t think we need to take any penalties here [in Japan].
“Esteban has some reasonable mileage left, Fernando, we need to have a think. But again, it all comes down to what the analysis says. It’s hard to know at the moment until all that work has been done.”