‘Popes of separate churches’: Otmar Szafnauer defends himself over Aston Martin comment

Otmar Szafnauer previously said that having ‘two popes’ doesn’t work during his time with Aston Martin.

When Racing Point rebranded to Aston Martin ahead of the 2021 season, Martin Whitmarsh joined the team as the Group Chief Executive Officer of Performance Technologies to work in tandem with team principal Otmar Szafnauer.

In February of 2022 however, only a year into working with Whitmarsh, Szafnauer left Aston Martin to become the team principal of Alpine, who were also entering their second season in the sport following the rebrand of Renault.

The American famously claimed that “when you have two popes, it’s just not right,” suggesting that he left the team after finding it difficult to work with the new CEO.

Despite his clear refusal to work with another boss at Aston Martin, Szafnauer has claimed that he is having no such problems at Alpine, despite working with CEO Laurent Rossi.

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The 58-year-old has suggested that while in principal the situation may seem similar to what he experienced at Aston Martin, the structure put in place by Alpine and the broadness of Rossi’s role allows the pair to work together efficiently.

“Working with Laurent is really easy because we’re like popes of separate churches. He’s CEO of Alpine, the car company, and I report to him,” he told Autosport.

“One of the pillars of the Alpine car company is an F1 team, or one of the entities underneath him. So I just report to him there.

“He’s got all sorts of other direct reports, to sell cars, design cars, manufacture cars, market the cars, all that stuff. It’s kind of like Toto [Wolff] reporting to Ola Kallenius.”

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Szafnauer’s suggestions that Alpine’s structure is working is backed up by the team’s results, as the French team finished as the best of the rest in 2022 after fending off a late charge from McLaren.

This finish was made even more impressive by the fact that Alpine suffered from a large number of engine failures last year, costing both drivers, especially Fernando Alonso, a huge haul of points.

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Alonso eventually grew tired of the team’s reliability woes and has moved to Aston Martin, where he will replace the recently retired Sebastian Vettel.

Alpine initially tried to replace the Spaniard with their youth driver, Oscar Piastri, however after the Australian made a shock move to McLaren, the team managed to sign Pierre Gasly from AlphaTauri.

Szafnauer has suggested that the team have actually got a better deal after securing the services of the Frenchman, claiming that Gasly has both the quality and potential to be a superb signing for Alpine.