However, Szafnauer asserts that de Meo was impatient to have success delivered, despite his attempts to outline the time it would take to transform Alpine into a top team.
“Well, I think the senior management at Renault, the CEO, Luca de Meo, wants, as everyone does in Formula One, wants success instantly and unfortunately, that’s not how it works in Formula One,” Szafnauer said in an exclusive interview with SiriusXM.
“So, you know, I pointed out to him that it takes time and the process of doing it, what’s required, and having raced for 34 years and 26 years of it in Formula One, I think I speak with a degree of experience when I say this is what it takes to turn a team around and they wanted to do it faster than is possible and I just, you know, I couldn’t agree to an unrealistic timeline because if you do that, it’s only a matter of time and everyone gets frustrated, so I laid out a very realistic and possible plan and I think they wanted to shortcut that plan with somebody else.”
Amid a disastrous start to the current campaign, then Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi declared that changes would be enforced unless performances drastically improved.
Rossi had previously outlined late in 2021 that the side had a “100-race project” to get to the front in F1 – but the Frenchman admitted this year it might extend to 120.
Szafnauer, though, was only granted 34 races at the helm, prompting him to rue that he wasn’t given the time to supervise the additions he had recruited from rival teams.
“So, the runway that was afforded me, and this is in the press everywhere, was a hundred races and I think I got 33, 34 into it,” he lamented.
“And a hundred races times 20, if it’s 20 a year, is five years. I mean, I know we’re racing a little bit more than 20 now, whatever it is, 24, so it’s between four and five years and I thought that’s long enough. That is long enough to get the right people in place.
“You need about six months, six to nine months to understand what’s really required. The skill sets that you have, what you’re lacking, and then aggressively start recruiting, and I think I aggressively started recruiting at Alpine three months into it.
“They already had a plan called the Mountain Climber, which they recognized that they needed to recruit in some areas, and then I started helping with that. I mean, after 26 years in the business, you know some of the people at other teams that are capable and competent, and then you go after them.
“You know, some I was successful in getting them to leave their teams and come, and there are others that I talked to quite a bit where they, you know, they said, ‘No, I like it here at Red Bull’, for example, and, ‘I’ve got opportunities in the future and I’m gonna stick it out here’.
“So, I wasn’t a hundred per cent successful in recruiting the people that were required, but I had more than one on the list for each one of the jobs, so if the number one fellow said, ‘No, I’d rather not come’, I’d go to the number two guy and that’s what I was doing, and half about eight, six to eight, two have started already and another six to come signed up and, you know, that’s what it takes really.”
Szafnauer adds that the Renault Group’s decision to dispense with his services demonstrates that it doesn’t have the patience needed for success to materialise.
When asked what it takes to reverse an underperforming F1 team’s fortunes, Szafnauer replied: “So, there’s a couple things you have to do, and I don’t want to give away, you know, the things I know, but there’s a few things you must do in any business is if you want to turn things around, one, you have to have a deep understanding of what you have in the first place.
“So, take a good look, understand what you have deeply understand what’s good and understand what needs changing or what needs, sometimes it doesn’t even need change, it just needs enhancing.
“You know, there could be skill sets that are not there at all. It’s not that there’s skillset that aren’t good enough, they just don’t exist and that’s exactly what I found at Alpine.
“There are pockets of the organization that, you know, the skill level is at a very elementary level and that’s because the people they have there were college graduates, for example, as opposed to somebody with 25 years of knowledge and it was in those areas that I started to recruit, but the best in Formula One are usually on long-term contracts.
“You know, at least three years and to get them to change, you know, I always say if you go to an engineer that you know or an aerodynamicist that you know at Red Bull and say, ‘Hey, come here and work at Alpine’. Well, they’re winning world championships, winning races. What is so compelling to make them say, ‘You know what? I want to stop winning races at Red Bull and come join you at Alpine’.
“There’s got to be a compelling reason to do so and I was able to convince quite a few people in areas that we needed to bolster, but unfortunately they were to come some in the autumn of ’23, most of them mid ’24 and some of them in 2025, and that’s what I try to explain that, you know, look, it’s happening, it’s coming and sometimes, you know, you take a half step backwards to take two forward and they just didn’t have, I don’t know. They didn’t have that understanding.
“Either it was impatience or it was emotion, but definitely no understanding and unfortunately, you know, that’s what it takes and that’s what they’ll find and they wanted it quicker, but not through me.”