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From Force India's Rise to Alpine's Struggles: The F1 Journey of Otmar Szafnauer

Written by Marco Noguier, Edited by Mara Simion

During the 2023 Belgian GP, Alpine announced that they’ll be parting ways with their Team Manager, Otmar Szafnauer, as the relation between the two parties had soured during the last months, due to the team’s lack of results and as the French team searched for restructuration under new management. But one may ask, who is Otmar Szafnauer ?A person commonly seen in the paddocks and in the box of many teams such as Aston Martin, Force India or Honda. What is his future in Formula One ?

Otmar Szafnauer was born the 13th of August 1964 in Romania where he spent his early years before moving to America at the age of seven. After graduating with degrees in engineering and business, he joined Ford Motor Company as a Programmes Manager. In 1998, Szafnauer left Ford to become Operations Director in the newly formed F1 team British American Racing (BAR). But it’s really three years later that Otmar Szafnauer’s career in Formula One would begin, as Vice President of Honda Racing Developments and as a member of the Management Board of the Formula One team before its departure from the category in 2009. A few months later, Szafnauer would join the newly formed team, Force India.

Otmar Szafnauer during his time at BAR; Credit - Autohebdo

Force India was a new team, built on the remains of former F1 team, Spyker, by the Indian businessman Vijay Mallya. Force India's first ever season in Formula One saw them going point-less despite showing good pace. At the end of the season, Otmar Szafnauer secured a deal with McLaren-Mercedes. This move propelled the team forward, as Force India scored their first pole position, points and podium at the Belgian Grand Prix.

The team’s pace kept improving, going from ninth to seventh in the Constructors between 2009 and 2010, before holding the sixth place in 2011,2013 and 2014. The team reached its peak between 2015 and 2017, where it stayed in the Constructor Top Five. These results earned them respect throughout the paddock, especially given their limited funding.

Reflecting on this period, Szafnauer remarked: "My management philosophy was to find out how to attract talented people to a team like Force India, without having the resources of other teams. I worked very hard to be an empathetic leader and gave everyone confidence, ensuring they knew they played a major role." Unfortunately, the fairytale will end in 2018, as Vijay Mallya faced financial problems and the team was placed under court administration. During this tumultuous time, Szafnauer did his best to keep the team together before its financial takeover by Lawrence Stroll in 2019. Force India was then rebranded as Racing Point, with Szafnauer retaining his position.

In 2020, controversy struck, as Racing Point’s new car the RP20 was accused of being a copy of last year's Mercedes car, the W10. Otmar Szafnauer defended the team and the “Pink Mercedes” was allowed to race all season. In Bahrain, the team won its first ever race with Sergio Perez behind the wheel, the highest point of Otmar's 12 years stay at the team. But the joy was cut short as the 2021 season was a major setback, the team (being rebranded Aston Martin) finishing only seventh in the Constructors, with Otmar Szafnauer leaving the team.

Otmar Szafnauer and Sergio Perez; Credit - Autohebdo

Szafnauer joined Alpine in early 2022, when the French team had great ambitions by targeting podiums and even the Top 3 for this first year under the new regulations. Unfortunately, the reality was different as Alpine was inconsistent during the season and finished fourth, with just one podium and 342 points behind third place, Mercedes. But the biggest drama of the season occurred during the summer break when Fernando Alonso, 2 times world champion, left Alpine for Aston Martin.

The French team quickly announced their reserve driver Oscar Piastri for the 2023 season. But later the same day, Piastri denied having signed any contract with the French team, before announcing that he signed with McLaren, Alpine’s rival team. Those events left the management department scrambling but Alpine managed to sign Pierre Gasly.

Otmar Szafnauer during his time at Alpine; Credit - F1 Autojournal

For 2023, the goal was to keep that fourth position and to catch up to the top three. But the Alpine performances have declined compared to last year. The team is currently sitting in sixth place in the Constructors with only 57 points compared to 93 last year and has fallen far behind McLaren rivals. Otmar Szafnauer was held responsible for the team's bad management since the Summer of 2022 that led to Alpines current situation and was fired during the Belgian GP. Otmar’s work is still heavily criticized as Bruno Famin said : “The main difference [with Otmar] is that I'll be devoting myself 100% to this role, which will of course be much more beneficial to the projects."

Despite being an important figure in the F1 paddocks for the last decades, there is no confirmation that he will join any new teams for the current or the following seasons.


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