Alpine: Everyone deserves a second chance

Unraced 1960 -1969 Unraced 1970 - 1979

Everyone deserves a second change. Why are you associating Alpine with this quote?  Alpine is not unknown with the Formula One. In the late 1960s, the company actually build their own Formula 1 car the Alpine A350, sadly the team would not appear on the grid with their car. Eventually the car was destroyed. It is a good thing to see Alpine appearing in the Formula 1 next year. Even though it is just a new start for the Renault F1 Team.

Alpine’s interested in the Formula one dates back to the early 1960s. When Alpine founder Jean Rédélé tried to seduce Renault to produce a proper Formula One engine. As he had plans to design a new Formula One car. Renault, at that time conservative in it moves, did not want to be involved with the Formula One and ditched the plans in the bin. Or didn’t they?

Perhaps is 1967 the season Formula One would change forever. TeamLotus appeared on thee track with their Lotus 49. Just a Formula One car, with one big difference. The cars followed the color scheme of Gold Leaf. At that time it was one of the first sponsors in the Formula One. The same year the French government asked their industry to produce an all-French Formula One car. To show the world the French industrial finesse and the capabilities of their engineers. This was backed by Elf. Who was stated owned at that time and basically had unlimited funds.

Matra was obviously the first company people looked at. However, Matra acquired by Chrysler in 1967, left Elf as their supplier and swept to Shell. Probably because Chrysler was in charge. This means that the small Alpine company came in the picture for the grant by Elf.  At the end of 1967 Alpine started working on their Formula One car the A350. Everything happened in secret, as there was one small problem, Renault.

Richard Bouleau and André de Cortanze built the A350 in Dieppe; the A350 acquired the Gordini V8 engines. Which produced 300HP by 7000RPM.  The car was revolutionary with their suspension. Flat suspension secured, on paper, that there would be no negative camber while cornering the car. The front wheels didn’t work independently from each other. Connected by the wishbones on the mainframe. In April 1968 the Alpine A350 was completed and ready to be tested.

Mauro Bianchi intensively tested the A350 at Zolder and Zandvoort. Especially the test results at Zandvoort, 23th of June 1968, were promising. With his best time, he would have qualified himself in the mid field of the Grand Prix. Eventually the decided to enter the French Grand Prix and debut the car. The French Grand Prix was held at the 7th of July at circuit Rouen-Les-Essarts. Bianchi would never race with the car.

Why would you debut the car that quick if you could test more with the car? There is a philosophy behind it. Jean Rédélé’s plan was that if Renault would see they produced a proper F1 car though they lacked the power. The Gordini V8 did not have as much power as Repco and Cosworth had at that time. Renault would go overboard and start designing and building their own Formula 1 engine. Therefore, the world could see how efficient the French companies were. The opposite happened.

When the team was ready to travel towards French to debut the Alpine A350, a memo from the Renault Company arrived at Jean’s desk. The memo stated that they were not allowed to use the Gordini engine in any of their cars to race with. In the book Alpine and Renault the whole politics behind it has been described.  In 1965 Renault forbade Jean Rédélé to use the Renault brand either on his cars or his engines. Due to the conservative alignment of the Renault board.

Months after the French Gran Prix the Alpine A350 disappeared. The car was destroyed. To this day only a few pieces of the A350 remain. A heavily damaged part of the bodywork and several rims.  All what’s left of the Alpine adventure in the Formula 1.

However, in the mid 70s Alpine reappeared in the Formula One. Only this time Renault used the brand. Renault worked on the first Turbo engine in the Formula One during the 70s. The Renault RS01 was the first car that entered an official race weekend with a turbo engine. To develop the engine André de Cortanze was asked in 1975 if he was able to create a Formula 1 car for testing purpose only. The car had the name “laboratiore”. The Alpine 500 appeared for the first time on the track in 1976.

To be honest I’m happy to see Alpine appearing on the grid next year. Will Alpine bring the necessary changed to the team? I can only hope so; will they be able to crack Mercedes? Not instantly. However, if the team is able to have a new fresh start they could bring some surprises, definitely with Fernando Alonso behind the wheel.