The decision by Renault to undergo a rebrand ahead of the 2021 F1 World Championship season is more than simply an opportunity to put its niche sportscar arm front and centre of its global racing platform, it’s a fresh lick of paint all round that stretches beyond the livery.
Indeed, while the heart and objectives of the French-financed, British-based team remain largely unchanged, Alpine’s ‘promotion’ comes at a critical juncture in Renault’s attempts to re-establish itself as the force that earned it two world titles in 2005 and 2006.
Misty-eyes or not, Fernando Alonso’s high-profile return to Renault 15 years after their lattermost F1 title together – as well as two years out of the premier series – will be viewed arguably more as a guaranteed marketing boon for Alpine than perhaps an automatic route back to the front of the field.
Indeed, few will doubt the Spaniard will relish the underdog status of competing with Alpine, which is well placed to not only build on the promise of last season’s second-half period but afford to turn focus towards 2022 when the fresh regulation concept comes into play.
However, it is Alpine’s decision to think outside the box with its choice of Davide Brivio as team manager has the potential to be a sharper weapon in its armoury than even the razor-slick Alonso.
The significance of Brivio’s appointment to you will be determined by whether you follow MotoGP or not, but beyond the relative coup in of a middling F1 team luring someone better used to managing a project on two-wheels, the French outfit has bagged a good one.
Can Davide Brivio ‘do a Suzuki’ with Alpine?
Here’s a refresher for those at the back who have never come across Davide Brivio’s modern-day achievements.
If you’re a regular visitor to Crash.net it won’t have escaped your notice Suzuki wrapped up the 2020 MotoGP World Championship, a result that while not quite ‘Leicester FC’ in terms of an upset was still an upending of the pre-season predictions equivalent to that of, well, Alpine winning in the F1 title in 2021.
Indeed, the potential parallels between the Suzuki and Alpine projects won’t have escaped Brivio’s notice after he ensured his legacy in MotoGP by transforming the Japanese firm from a mid-grid outfit to an ‘on its day giant-killer’ and through to fully-fledged championship winners.
Moreover, while he may not be front and centre of Suzuki publicity profile, he is widely considered to be the critical figure in driving the team’s trajectory to the top since he was installed as manager for the firm’s return to MotoGP in 2015. Indeed, much like Alpine, Suzuki are of course factory-backed but, again, like Alpine doesn’t operate to the same big-budget afforded by Mercedes and Ferrari.
And yet, working to within these confines, Brivio channelled Suzuki into a core, efficient set-up by eschewing the trend of splitting resources across two teams (Suzuki is one of only two manufacturers not to have a satellite effort), fostering a co-operative environment between team-mates and working hard to smoothing relations between the purse-string wielding ‘suits’ and those on the ‘shop floor’.
To emphasise this point it’s worth noting Suzuki is widely-known to have a very low employee turnover rate.
He’s also been a big factor in changing a perception in MotoGP that ‘experience’ is better, instead often overlooking big names that have traditionally brought knowledge but with it a singular steer on bike development, in favour of young up-and-comers that can more freely blend their fledgling style with the bike.
Before his achievements at Suzuki, Brivio was also the mastermind behind several of Yamaha’s titles during the 2000s and is considered one of the most affable and smartest team leaders of recent years.
What Davide Brivio can bring to Alpine F1
So how does this apply to Alpine? While he might find Alonso doesn’t quite fit this mould of youth promotion – and the Spaniard’s relationship with managers in the past has been mixed – Brivio is no stranger of working with larger than life personalities having been credited as the man who convinced Valentino Rossi to make his career-defining switch from Honda to Yamaha, another team that at the time had slipped down the MotoGP hierarchy.
Brivio’s appointment spells the end of Cyril Abiteboul’s modestly successful stint as team manager at Renault. A firm favourite among Renault management, Abiteboul’s F1 credentials will perhaps remember him as being unable to progress the team at a rapid enough rate..
Indeed, while it’s clear the current format of F1 means it takes a disproportionately long time to turn an F1 team around – and remember Renault was picking up from the cash-strapped Lotus outfit – but even then a couple of podiums in 2020 wasn’t the return ultimately expected by now.
If Abiteboul’s ongoing presence through slow progress arguably showed a lack of imagination from Renault, then Brivio is a fascinating punt outside the box that will perfectly measure the challenges faced as a manager between F1 and MotoGP.
Indeed, F1 still represents a huge step for Brivio. The paddock atmosphere is more flamboyant and the characters bolshier in MotoGP than F1, but of all the figures in holding management positions in MotoGP, Brivio is arguably the one most likely to make the transition successfully.
However, if we do need an example, look to Massimo Rivola who held lofty positions in various F1 teams, including Minardi and its Scuderia Toro Rosso predecessor, then Ferrari as its Sporting Director before becoming head of the Aprilia MotoGP project. For now, Aprilia’s progress has been meagre to date but 2021 will better demonstrate whether he is able to pull the team up the grid.
As for Brivio, with Alpine perhaps the best-placed outfit to make the biggest gains in the next couple of years based on budget and where to focus its strategy in light of regulations, the Italian’s management style might end up being worth the extra few tenths it needs to haul the team into regular podium and potentially race win territory.
Flip the scenario over, we will soon see if Suzuki – who won’t replace Brivio directly – suffer without him as it begins the defence of its titles…