Formula 1

Alpine: Reborn and Racing Again

Alpine: Reborn and Racing Again
The last lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the final round of the 2020 Formula 1 season was also the last lap for the Renault name in the Blue Riband category of motor racing, at least for the time being. 

However, the French car firm is not quitting the sport, it is simply rebranding itself as the Alpine F1 team. The name is most closely associated with the A110 model, a beautiful little sports car, the brainchild of Jean Redele, who founded the company in 1954.

Alpine was taken over by Renault in 1973 and ceased operations in 1995. But a couple of years ago, the Alpine marque was relaunched with the introduction at the Geneva Motor Show in 2017 of a new Alpine A110 with all the cheeky looks and sleek lines of the original.

The Alpine name brings some racing heritage and glamour to Renault, which clearly aims to use the marketing and publicity clout of Formula 1 to stamp Alpine on the public consciousness once again, reviving the glory days when the A110 captured the imagination of motor sport fans as well as the 1973 World Rally Championship crown. The fact that the new car was so well received when the covers came off at the Geneva Show suggests that Renault is pushing against an open door with this new project and that’s very much down to the love that still exists for the original A110.

Alpine A110 at Rallye Monte Carlo in 1973. Image courtesy Renault Communication

Its genesis was all down to Jean Redele’s belief that motor sport was the best sales tool. Steeped in racing – in the early 1900s his father Emile worked as a mechanic for Renault factory Grand Prix driver Ferenc Szisz – Rédélé studied business and economics around the time of the Second World War including a stint working for Renault. A paper he produced on working methods caught the boss’ eye and Redele, at the tender age of 24 was appointed Renault’s official dealer in Dieppe in northern France. He began by modifying one of the then new Renault 4CV cars for racing, taking the humble car of the people to prestigious events such as the Mille Miglia and even raced at Le Mans and Sebring in the 50s.

Automotive Pioneer and Founder of the French Automotive Brand, Alpine. Image Courtesy Alpine

This wasn’t enough for the ambitious young man who harboured dreams of building his own cars. Thus in 1954, the Societe Anonyme des Automobiles Alpine was born, named after the famous Coupe des Alpes rally. His first attempt, the A106 featured a light fiberglass body, very innovative at the time. In fact its featherweight proportions were what would give all Alpines up to the A110 its unique handling abilities. Power was not the car’s strong point as its engines came from humble Renault models. In October 1957 the A108 was launched and for this model, famed tuner Gordini had breathed his magic on the Renault Dauphine’s engine which in its final form was 998cc in size. And then came the A110, using components from the then new Renault R8. The larger engine required some bodywork modification at the rear, giving the car the much more aggressive and purposeful stance that became so familiar to rally fans. It’s first win came in 1963 in the Rallye des Lions with famous motoring journalist Jose Rosinski at the wheel.

The big breakthrough for the tiny company came in 1967 when the Renault badge was first spotted on the A110 as the car giant began to sell Alpines through its own dealer network, as well as financing its racing and rallying activities.

The car’s poise and excellent power-to-weight soon produced results and French rallying royalty all rushed to get behind the wheel, with the likes of Gerard Larrousse, Jean-Pierre Nicholas, Bernard Darniche all parking it in the winner’s circle. In 1968, the A110, now powered by a 1600cc engine won the French Rally Championship in the hands of Jean-Claude Andruet and his woman co-driver, enigmatically known as “Biche,” real name Michele Petit. In 1970, the Berlinette 1600s was homologated into Group 4 and the wins just kept coming on the international rally stage. Its annus mirabilis was 1973, the first year of the new World Rally Championship. Now powered by an 1800cc engine, the pocket rock took the title and built itself a legend. In the opening round, the Monte Carlo Rally, it took the win and five of the top six places, before going on to win six of the 13 rounds.

Fernando will return to the F1 grid full-time from 2021. Image courtesy XPB / James Moy Photography

Apart from dominating the world rally scene, Renault and Alpine also tried its hand at endurance racing, specifically the Le Mans 24 Hours, it has to be said with less success than on the special stages. Now, as part of Renault’s revival of the Alpine brand, not only is it entering the Formula 1 arena next year, it is also heading back to Le Mans to race in the top LMP1 category. But it’s in Formula 1 that hopes of a resurgence are highest and no less a driver than double world champion Fernando Alonso is returning to F1 to carry the new team’s colours, hopefully the famous bleu métallique.

47 years after winning the first FIA World Rally Championship, Alpine made its return to the world stage in the 2020 season-finale..Image courtesy Gregory Lenormand/DPPI

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