AlphaTauri AT02, 2021

Analysis: AlphaTauri’s curious decision to decline a ‘free upgrade’ for its 2021 car

2021 F1 season

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Last year Racing Point’s RP20 was widely dubbed a ‘pink Mercedes’ for its obvious similarities to the world champions’ previous car.

But despite the furore which surrounded the car, which cost the team a 15-point deduction and hefty €400,000 fine), Racing Point’s approach was vindicated. They often had the third-quickest car last year, should have finished that high in the championship, and indeed would have done so without that penalty.

As Racing Point already share the same power unit, gearbox and some other parts with Mercedes, modelling their new machine so closely on the silver car made a lot of sense. And they aren’t the only team which has benefitted from this approach. AlphaTauri has used gearboxes, rear suspension and some front suspension parts supplied by Red Bull since the two teams began using the same power units in 2019 (when AlphaTauri was known as Toro Rosso).

AlphaTauri AT02 and AT01
Interactive: Compare the new AlphaTauri AT02 with last year’s car
These teams were handed an opportunity when F1’s decided last year to extend the life of the current technical regulations in 2021 by one season as a cost-cutting measure. A system of tokens was introduced restricting how far teams can develop new parts for their cars. However customer teams which obtained components from other competitors were permitted to ‘upgrade’ their 2019 hardware to 2020 specification without expending any tokens.

As Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto observed last year, this was a gift for the likes of Racing Point and AlphaTauri. “We’ve got limitations in our development for the next year, which is the token system.,” he said. “We’ve got only two tokens to play, trying to address and modify the weaknesses of this year.

“There are teams, which at the moment are not limited by tokens, they’ve got free tokens – Racing Point or AlphaTauri. So those teams will have a competitive advantage to us.”

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Racing Point is expected to again take advantage of the opportunity to mimic the world champions’ last car as closely as possible. But AlphaTauri is not doing the same with respect to Red Bull. “We have elected to continue with the same rear suspension and gearbox design as we used in 2020,” confirmed technical director Jody Egginton at the launch of the AT02 on Friday.

Why have they chosen to pass up what should, theoretically, be a free performance upgrade?

The simplest part of the explanation is that they were very pleased with the car they produced last year. “I really believe the AT01 was the best car to be produced by the team,” said Egginton.

He had good cause to be satisfied with it. Yes, the team’s surprise Italian Grand Prix victory came courtesy of a slice of good luck, but there were plenty of other strong performances for them to cheer. Indeed, by the end of the season, they had moved ahead of Racing Point in terms of outright performance.

All teams have to balance the development of their 2021 cars with work on their new chassis for the drastically overhauled technical regulations which will come into force next year. Sticking with a known solution on part of the car therefore has an obvious attraction, allowing AlphaTauri to focus its efforts at the front end, where it has spent its development tokens and introduced some 2020-specification Red Bull hardware.

They may also have noted the difficulties Red Bull encountered with the sometimes tricky handling characteristics of their RB16 and preferred not to risk inheriting them.

The 2021-specification Pirelli tyres are little changed from those used in 2019, so continuing to use their old suspension should limit the amount of learning they have to do in that respect.

Finally, AlphaTauri has also been preoccupied with major changes back at its base, including a move to a larger-scale wind tunnel. “We have recently transitioned our wind tunnel testing from our Bicester 50% wind tunnel facility to the Red Bull 60% wind tunnel facility, which is a further major project to deal with,” Egginton explained. “It was important to make the jump to a 60% model and the team working out of Bicester have managed this transition very well, so far limiting any disruption as much as possible.”

Amid the various disruptions the team has coped with during the off-season – not to mention the ongoing complications arising from the pandemic – sticking with a known quantity at the rear of the car clearly appealed to them. Whether it proves to be a sensible trade-off or a compromise too far we won’t know until they hit the track.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 17 comments on “Analysis: AlphaTauri’s curious decision to decline a ‘free upgrade’ for its 2021 car”

    1. We have recently transitioned our wind tunnel testing from our Bicester 50% wind tunnel facility to the Red Bull 60% wind tunnel facility,

      I assume the percentage is primarily a result of the relation between the diameter of the wind tunnel and the width of the car.

      Does that mean that when the cars became more than 10% wider in 2017 that car models had to be reduced or even the whole tunnel becoming obsolete?

      1. No, don’t think the models needed to be down-sized or tunnels left to air-out. Probably only had to resize or remove the tunnel pedestrian runoff areas.

        1. @jimmi-cynic I think there was a couple of reasons for the McLaren (MTC) wind tunnel becoming obsolete, but I think one of them is the width of the cars and the narrowness of the tunnel and the fact that because it’s ‘incorporated into the building’ made it very difficult to remedy.

      2. @coldfly It’s the relative size of the car they are allowed to put in the windtunnel. Either a 50% or 60% scale model. 60% is the maximum allowed scale for F1.

        1. As you state the % refers to the relative size (and no scale models over 60% can be used), @f1osaurus.

          I was just wondering what happened around 2016.
          Teams don’t build oversized windtunnels (very expensive to build and run). Thus if the windtunnel was just big enough for the 2016 car, what did they do with the 2017 cars as these were more than 10% wider (from 1.80m to 2.00m).
          I guess teams either had to adjust the wind tunnel, or go for a smaller scale model for the test, or just test half the car (which is quite dangerous when interpreting the results).
          Maybe that’s the reason that AT only has a 50% scale windtunnel, as it might have been built as a 60% tunnel for the (1998-)2016 cars.

          1. @coldfly It’s not like they build these wind tunnels to just fit a model.

            50% scale models are much cheaper and faster to build. So it has it’s advantages too.

            1. Interestingly it’s not a lot more expensive to build a 60% scale car as it is a clay core with 3D printed extremities.
              And it’s easier as you can better replicate the small details.

              The real cost difference is building and running a bigger tunnel.
              @f1osaurus

    2. Why would they adopt the weakest part of the RB16? I bet that is the part where RB are going to spent a token themselves to get rid of the rear suspension from 2020.

    3. They obviously fear that they would end up with a car that is as hard to drive as the Red Bull was and that Gasly will then perform as well as he did at Red Bull.

      1. That’s a good point, the more their car feels like the Red Bull the more likely they are to get the other version of Gasly. Easier to drive doesn’t mean faster of course so it potentially cuts both ways.

    4. I think this will prove to be a wise decision. It’s unclear if the RB16 unstable rear end was the fault of the rear suspension, or if it was just some aero parts stalling, or more likely a combination of them both. Only Red Bull and Alpha Tauri will know if it would be an actual upgrade in performance or not. But then, as the team has pointed out, performance can be found all over the car. With a finite amount of resources, especially with the 22-project running in parallell, you have to invest in the areas that are going to bring the most gain. It’s unwise to invest in something that will bring a tiny gain for a whole lot of effort. Especially since last years Alpha Tauri suspension worked so well for them.

    5. How much work are the teams permitted to do on designing the 2022 car in 2021.?
      And if not now, then when can they “officially” start.?
      Logic would dictate … anytime, but somehow I doubt that is the case.

    6. AlphaTauri finished 2020 well down at the back of the midfield. Their car was poor. While Red Bull had mostly fixed their handling issues at the end of the year and ended up with the car to beat for the last 4 races of the year.

      Only explanation is that AlphaTauri doesn’t care how far back they finish. They’d rather design their own car and finish ahead of the backmarkers instead of getting some help and fight at the front of the midfield.

      1. I don’t think there’s a lot of people who would agree red bull was the car to beat the last 4 races, to me it only seemed superior at the last race.

    7. I may dreamt or assumed this…. but I thought AT didn’t use the high rake concept that RB uses, one of the reasons Gasly does better in an AT as the downforce is less peaky apparently. The rear suspension and it’s mounting points would be influenced by that basic design philosophy and therefore may not easily translate between the cars.

    8. I think you could have started with 2022 car in 2020 already and I’m sure some elements were already designed or at least sketched out then. It’s all about optimising the budget and man hours. You will learn about 2021 car during the year and development on that can be carried out for 2022. Running the 2021 season and developing throughtout the year (up until september?) you essiantially get on track testing for new parts and upgrades. Just designing stuff blindly for next year only with CFD and wind tunnel testing can work on certain areas, but getting feedback from the track is very important.

    9. Maybe last years bull was so edgy the team felt they had a better platform instead, after all Gasly never finished as close to max as late last season

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