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F1 cost cap makes it harder to catch top three, reckons Alpine

Yup, Alpine thinks spending limits in F1 are making it tougher to reel in Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes

Published: 27 Feb 2023

Bad news for those of us hoping F1 will become a level playing field any time soon: Alpine believes the F1 cost cap - brought in to stop the big teams outspending everyone else - is actually making it harder to catch them. Oh.

Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes dominated the championship (mostly Red Bull, but still) last season, and having finished a distant fourth in the constructors’ standings in 2022, Alpine is targeting a less-distant-but-still-fourth-place finish for ’23.

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Asked during last week’s pre-season testing why it couldn’t be a tad more ambitious, team principal Otmar Szafnauer explained: “For us to get closer to the top three means we have to develop at a higher rate than they’re developing. And that happens when the regulations don’t change much. Because they will get to an area where it’s harder to find the next bit of performance than it is for us.

Or it happens because you genuinely have an organisation that can find developments quicker than the top three. And for the second thing to happen you have to put a lot of things in place: the right infrastructure, the right tools, the methodologies and the people. And they already have those things, because that’s why they are where they are.

“For us to catch them in those areas, we’ve got to work a lot. Including adding tools that we don’t have today. To get closer to them isn’t unrealistic, but even that is difficult. It’s not a dream, it just takes time.”

And Szafnauer believes the cost cap is “holding us back”, largely because there are actually two cost caps: the OpEx - operational expenses for funding stuff like aero development - and the CapEx, which limits how much teams invest in the facilities where said development takes place.

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While the $140 million OpEx hasn’t been a problem for Alpine as that’s roughly what it burned through in a season anyway, Szafnauer says the team has been “struggling” with the CapEx, and believes it lost out when richer rivals got some big spending done early before limits were introduced.

“Some of the top three hurried to put the infrastructure in place, bought things early and spent a lot of money early,” claims Szafnauer. “That’s because they had the money, we knew [the cap] was coming, and they rushed it.

“Teams that didn’t have the money at the time couldn’t do the same. And now we’ve got to make sure that we can release some of that CapEx spend, such that we have an even playing field for tools and infrastructure that’s required to develop a good racing car.”

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That sounds very much like self-interest, although it’s partly driven by a belief that the CapEx has already been raised “to allow Aston [Martin] to build a wind tunnel” that’s due for completion next year. “Without that modification, you’d never get a wind tunnel done,” says Szafnauer. “The ceiling used to be 36 million over four years, well a wind tunnel costs you 75 million. So you’d never get it in.

“There are some fundamental bits of infrastructure, simulation tools that you need in order to be able to develop quicker. And if you can’t put those in place, you’ll always be behind.”

And on that cheery note, the first race of the season takes place this weekend on Sunday 5 March…

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