Cyril Abiteboul was expected to lead Alpine’s new era in Formula 1, so when his departure from the Renault Group was announced on Monday, it came as something of a shock. 

The Frenchman, 43, will leave his long-held role as team principal ahead of the team’s first season competing under the Alpine name in 2021. 

As a Renault stalwart, having worked his way up the ranks of the F1 team since arriving at the company after university in 2001, Abiteboul oversaw the French manufacturer’s return as a constructor to the sport in 2016 and played a key role in helping the team move up the pecking order.

Speaking about his exit, Abiteboul said: “I would like to thank the Groupe Renault for having trusted me for many years, particularly with the relaunch and reconstruction of the team since 2016. 

"The solid foundations of the racing team and the entities in France and England built over these years, the strategic evolution of the sport towards a more economically sustainable model, and more recently the Alpine project which provides a renewed sense of meaning and dynamism, all point to a very fine trajectory.”

Why is Abiteboul leaving now?

In his time as team principal, Abiteboul led Renault to year-on-year improvements between 2016 and 2018. 

After finishing ninth in the constructors’ championship with just eight points to its name in 2016, Renault jumped up to sixth place in 2017, before going on to claim its best result since making its comeback as a works squad by clinching fourth place in the teams’ standings in 2018, racking up 122 points - almost double what it achieved the year before. 

Abiteboul pulled off what was considered a masterstroke for Renault by convincing Daniel Ricciardo to make his high-profile, big-money move from Red Bull in what appeared at the time to be a signing that reflected its aims to take the next step, but a disappointing 2019 campaign left the French manufacturer falling well behind on its targets.

Upon its return to F1 in 2016, Renault set what turned out to be an overly-ambitious goal of returning to winning ways by achieving a podium within three years and to be competing for a title after five years. 

Despite the encouraging progress made between 2016-2018, the podium target had not been met, while Renault slipped back behind midfield rivals McLaren to fifth place during an underwhelming 2019 season. 

Vast improvements were made in 2020 as Renault once again took fifth in the championship but managed its best points haul to date on 181, while it made a long-awaited return to the F1 rostrum, celebrating a total of three podium finishes last season. 

But even after the encouragement of 2020, Renault had still failed to remain on course with its lofty ambitions. 

The slow progress, coupled with McLaren’s upward trajectory, meant Renault was also unable to keep hold of prized asset Ricciardo, who decided to quit in favour a move to McLaren for 2021 before a wheel had even been turned in anger last season. 

Abiteboul’s departure coincides with a new era and a fresh start for the Renault team under its new Alpine guise. 

What now for Alpine? 

It was expected that Abiteboul would move into a new role within the company following a management shake-up at Alpine, but instead, he is leaving the company altogether. 

As a result of his exit, director of strategy and business development at Renault, Laurent Rossi, has been appointed as Alpine’s new CEO to oversee Alpine cars, its F1 team, and motorsport-related activities. Rossi will report directly to Renault CEO Luca de Meo. 

De Meo paid tribute to Abiteboul’s “remarkable work in F1 since 2007” which he said has enabled Alpine to look to the future and “conquer the podiums this year” in its new identity. 

No replacement has been announced for Abiteboul, but further changes are expected to the F1 team’s leadership structure. 

Current executive director Marcin Budkowski, who is highly-rated within the company’s hierarchy, has been tipped to take over from Abiteboul in the day-to-day running of the F1 operation as team principal.

Meanwhile, former Suzuki MotoGP team boss Davide Brivio has been linked with Alpine and is widely anticipated to take on a new role within the Alpine organisation, though it is currently unclear what position he will fill. 

Brivio’s shock exit from Suzuki was announced last week after the Italian led the Japanese manufacturer to its first MotoGP championship title since 2000 last year. 

Two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso is joining the rebranded Alpine team as Ricciardo’s replacement to partner Esteban Ocon for his third stint at Enstone.