Alpine has kicked-off its Formula 1 story with the reveal of its A521 racer, an evolution of the Renault RS20 that two-time champ Fernando Alonso will make his series return in. As well as hitting the ground running with its blue, red and white single-seater, the Anglo-French squad is set to be a beacon for the Alpine brand as it prepares to launch three new performance road cars – a hot hatch, an SUV and a successor to the A110 sports car – in the coming years. All will be electric and on the road by 2025, if everything goes according to plan.
The plus-800hp racing car (which gets its name as a link to the A500 prototype that Alpine created to help with the development of Renault’s 1977 RS01) that now sits atop Alpine’s line-up is very much an inherited machine. The brand explained in a digital press conference that it’s using 2021 as a steppingstone into the new technical era that’ll commence next year. Engineers are already working on the 2022 platform and engine, with the latter set to remain a Renault-branded hybrid V6 unit that’s built to the simpler regulations, frozen until the year 2025 to lower costs. Alpine wants to be competing for drivers’ and constructors’ championships in this period, which obviously makes its initial year immensely important.
Handily, Alonso – who’s now said to be in good shape after his recent bicycle road accident – and teammate Estaban Ocon make for one of the strongest driver line-ups in the field. While the 39-year-old hasn’t raced in F1 since the end of 2018, Alonso hasn’t exactly hung up his helmet, having won a second Le Mans 24 Hours with his teammates at Toyota to clinch the 2019 World Endurance Championship and, more recently, competed at the 2020 Indy 500. Ocon, 24, had a decent season last year that peaked with a second-place finish in Bahrain, so Alpine expects both drivers to be regularly challenging for podium positions in 2021. The R521’s predecessor proved the potential by collecting three trophies in 2020.
More of that would certainly help with the brand’s global cause, which has already delivered a fabulous sports car in the A110, but could definitely do with a marketing boost for a wider audience. While sales have been relatively strong on the continent, you don’t need to have an eye on the figures to know demand in other key markets (i.e. Britain) hasn't fully met expectation. Formula 1 will therefore naturally overtake Alpine’s LMP2 activities as its most important demonstration of performance engineering on the world motorsport ladder, although it’s not immediately clear how the F1 team will influence the road car line-up. Beyond the obvious benefits of association, that is.
We already know the upcoming new cars will be based on platforms developed by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance and arrive by the middle of this decade, driven by electric powertrains. It is conceivable that Alpine will carry some of its tech from the F1 machine’s hybrid systems (branded Renault E-Tech), like AMG does with its EQ Power stuff, and see fit to produce special F1-inspired variants. No doubt there will be ample opportunity to slap some stickers on its future machinery, a practice that worked rather well with the Megane and Clio RS models that the future products will indirectly succeed. We have high hopes, not least because it’s already been confirmed that Lotus will be working with Alpine to develop its A110 replacement.
That means it’s not just Alpine’s Formula 1 squad that has a distinctly Anglo-French feel. The racing team retains its French and UK bases (the former being Viry-Chatillon and the latter being the Enstone factory that secured Alonso his titles in 2005 and 2006), and the car’s colour scheme is said to illustrate the combination of “French passion and British grit,” according to Ocon in the presentation. Both of those traits are likely to serve a brand currently synonymous with rallying and endurance racing well in the future. History suggests a competitive Formula 1 team with a star driver does no harm, either.
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