Exclusive | “Disruptive” Permane “wasn’t a very nice individual”, says former Renault F1 mechanic

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In July of this year, Alpine shocked the F1 world as they removed Alan Permane from his role as Sporting Director. Team boss Otmar Szafnauer also got the chop as sweeping changes took place inside the team. ‘Team Enstone’ has not won a championship since 2006.

Photo Credit: BWT Alpine F1 Team

On the outside at least, Permane leaving the Enstone-based squad was totally unexpected. The Brit had been with the team since 1989, when they were known as Benetton. Originally named Toleman, they rebranded and were called Benetton from 1986 to 2001.

The 57-year-old stated off as a test electronics engineer, before holding roles such as Race Engineer and the team’s Chief Engineer. During his time as a race engineer, his drivers Jarno Trulli [Monaco 2004] and Giancarlo Fisichella [Australia 2005 and Malaysia 2006] managed to win races.

He ultimately was appointed the team’s Sporting Director, a role he held for over 10 years until his dismissal.

However, he perhaps became widely known to F1 fans at the 2013 Indian Grand Prix when he aggressively shouted at Kimi Räikkönen to get out of the f***ing way as the Finn battled his Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean for P3 in the closing laps on 6-lap older tyres.

Fernando Alonso’s number 1 mechanic during his title-winning seasons, Chris Hessey, spoke to Pit Debrief about what it was like to work with Permane, and he was far from complimentary.

Photo Credit: Renault F1 Team

Hessey explained that Permane was part of the original group that started out in the early days of Benetton and looked out for each other. For anyone who joined the team later [Hessey did after the conclusion of the 1998 season], they were treated poorly and faced the wrath of ‘the bobs’.

“He wasn’t a very nice [individual] — he’s what we used to call the Benetton old boys, the bobs [buddies].

“Prior to Renault, it was obviously called Benetton. They were a very cliquey set of guys, the old school as we called them.

“I mean I did work with Benetton before it became Renault [in 2002], but I didn’t go back to the very early days with them — and it was a very cliquey bunch of people.

“If you were one of the old boys, you couldn’t do any wrong. There was a lot of mistakes I used to see on the car over the weekend and it was all kind of washed away.

“Whereas if one of the new guys made a mistake, they would be screamed at. It was that sort of environment.”

Hessey believes Permane was a leading figure in creating such a divisive environment within the team between the old guard and the new people coming in.

“I think Permane was quite a big instigator of all that. He wasn’t one of the easiest people [to work with].

“If you were one of the old Benetton boys, you were alright. If you weren’t, he’d just brush you aside. You couldn’t get close with him.”

In August, former Renault test driver Franck Montagny ripped into Permane and explained how annoying he felt the Brit was.

“I think that the rising morale of the troops is mainly due to the fact that Permane, Szafnauer, etc. were fired, and frankly, they were useless.

“I was already with Permane when I was at Renault in 2003, and Renault took him off the race team because they couldn’t stand him on the race team any longer and put him on the test team.

“When he returned to the test team, he tired everyone out, and he’s been with the team for 34 years. I think it was the right thing to do. Bravo, Bruno Famin.”

Asked by Pit Debrief if Permane was moved for a period in 2003 as the 7-time Grand Prix starter for Super Aguri stated, Hessey confirmed that to be case.

“Yes, it was [true]. He was a very junior engineer — he kind of manipulated his way to the top of the tree when it was Renault.”

Not only did Alpine make changes on the Formula 1 side of things, they removed Laurent Rossi as Alpine CEO just over a week ahead of Permane and Szafnauer getting the boot.

He was replaced by Philippe Krief, with Bruno Famin appointed Vice President of Alpine Motorsports. Famin also took over as team principal on the F1 side on an interim basis.

Hessey suspects they saw Permane had not changed from his days working with him, and that’s why he believes they wanted him out of the team.

“I think obviously now Alpine are there. I don’t think he’s ever changed his ways.

“Obviously new people have come in and they have seen he’s not going to change. I think that’s why they moved him on.

“He can be quite a disruptive guy, that’s for sure.”