Nyck de Vries, AlphaTauri, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023

While one Red Bull team is flying, the other has taken a step backwards

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“A long to-do list.” That was what was presented to the AlphaTauri engineers during pre-season testing as new signing Nyck de Vries made his mark on the team. They had just a few days to get the car in better shape ahead of the first race in Bahrain, but technical director Jody Egginton was confident they had made a “strong evolution” from last season’s car.

But after just one race, AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost was unhappy, telling media he had “lost trust” in the engineers’ assessments of the AT04’s potential. The engineers told him the “car was fantastic” and that they were “making big progress,” he said, but they were “nowhere” after race one. What was behind such strong words?

Tost made it clear during pre-season testing what improvements he wanted to see from the car, particularly in terms of reducing its weight, which departing driver Pierre Gasly likened to “running with a backpack.”

“Last year we were not competitive. We were struggling,” said Tost ahead of the first race in Bahrain. “Our car was too heavy, we were not good enough on the aerodynamic side and made some other mistakes. And I hope that we can prevent this year.

(L to R): Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Nicholas Latifi, Williams, Interlagos, 2022
AlphaTauri slumped to ninth last year
“On the weight everything is fine, we are on the limit and on the aerodynamic side we made good progress.

“The aerodynamic team in Bicester did a really good job but we also must see how good our direct rivals will be and I think the first clear picture we will have after the first three races.”

But the team had a disappointing start to the season in Bahrain, leaving without any points. Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries finished 11th and 14th respectively.

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In comparison, this time last year the team had eight points after top 10 finishes for Gasly and Tsunoda – and that was despite Gasly’s Bahrain retirement and Tsunoda failing to even reach the grid in Jeddah after an engine problem.

There was little sign of the promised off-season gains. The team seem to have picked up where they left off. Despite all the teams being quicker in Bahrain than they had been a year earlier, AlphaTauri’s improvement was a modest two tenths of a second. Bar Alfa Romeo, every one of their rivals had found more time.

AlphaTauri scored a surprise win at Monza in 2020 and seemed to be making gains until the technical regulations changed last year. In their second season under them the gap has widened between AlphaTauri and parent team Red Bull, with which it shares power units and other parts.

As Egginton points out, the extent to which they rely on Red Bull for parts varies from year to year. “For 2022, with everyone doing a new car, the agreement with Red Bull was that we would take the rear end and the front end would be our own,” he explained.

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“It’s not to say we won’t do it in the future, but for this year the decision was taken to carry on our own direction and invest in other areas of the car. Year-on-year, we have a choice of what we take and what we want to do.

Report: Tost “doesn’t trust” AlphaTauri’s engineers after disappointing start to season
“And I think if we go back over the four or five years we’ve been in a synergy with Red Bull, there hasn’t been two years the same really.”

Egginton says AlphaTauri’s off-season development was targeted at solving their weight problem while also respecting the requirements of F1’s cost cap. In 2023, teams must keep their spending beneath a $135 million limit – with some exceptions and allowances.

“I think it’s fair to say that with last year’s first-year regulations, everyone’s costs would have been very high because you’re starting from scratch. And for sure this year there’s certain things that you can carry over and certain activities you wouldn’t repeat if you were happy with the results.

“There’s potentially cost savings associated with that, but then on the flip side, you probably got a clear picture of development and a clear picture on how quickly you want to evolve the car, you’re just investing in development.

“For me, it’s probably a trade-off between what the launch car is and what the in-season development is. In our case we carried over gearbox, hydraulics, which we purchased from Red Bull Technologies. Everything else is pretty much new.

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“So there’s some things there which represent in one way or another, a small cost reduction. But we just invested in other areas.

Tsunoda was disappointed to miss out on points in Jeddah
“The things we’ve addressed on the car to address the overweight still allowed us to carry over the vast majority of the parts that we purchased from Red Bull last year.”

The result of AlphaTauri’s “huge focus on aero development” was that “pretty much there’s not a wetted surface on the car that’s not changed,” said Egginton.

The need to reverse AlphaTauri’s slide in form was clear, said Egginton. “We’ve not panicked, we’ve sat down as a group and tried to understand the key points, what didn’t go how we wanted, how we want to address them and what things we did in the past that we probably didn’t execute so well in 2022.

“In 2019, 2020, 2021, the numbers are clear – it’s three years of solid progression and we’ve dropped the ball slightly last year. We’ve proven we’re capable of better and so essentially all of that forms, if you wish, a wake-up call.”

However the signs of progress have been thin so far this year. Following the disappointment of Bahrain, and Tost’s strong words, both cars dropped out in Q1 in Jeddah. Around a slightly tweaked circuit, half of the team were quicker than last year, the other half slower – and AlphaTauri took the biggest step backwards of all.

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It’s a poorly-timed development for a team whose future was already a matter of speculation following a report which claimed they were to be either relocated or sold. Red Bull insisted it has “no plans to change the current set-up.”

Tost said he has had assurances over the team’s future from Oliver Mintzlaff, the CEO of Red Bull’s corporate projects who has responsibility for their motorsport programmes following the death of company founder Dietrich Mateschitz last year.

But Tost’s strong words indicate he is not prepared to let the current situation continue. AlphaTauri is one of two teams yet to score this year and the other, McLaren, just announced an overhaul of its technical team. While AlphaTauri may not be up for sale, how long will those in charge be prepared to accept its current level of performance without making some kind of change?

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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7 comments on “While one Red Bull team is flying, the other has taken a step backwards”

  1. I guess the key question is how important is AT’s performance to the Red Bull owners? They didn’t buy Minardi to win the world championship, but to school their drivers for the main team. If they were trundling around at the back of the field that would be a problem, but as long as AT is competitive enough to assess the quality of the drivers, does it matter if they’re finishing 6th or 9th?

    1. Indeed, though sometime ago I had read they wanted them to be red bull’s sister team and were expecting them to be more competitive, but that didn’t happen.

  2. Big regulation changes seem to have always been a key weakness at Alpha Tauri. If they can’t maximise the potential of being partnered with Red Bull, one would wonder if it’s worth selling them off. Owning an entire second team just to run for junior drivers seems excessive these days.

    By the looks of it, they need a radical overhaul that current Red Bull leadership may be unwilling to enact. I’d love to keep Franz Tost on as the boss of the RB junior drivers, as I like how he’s kept trust in Tsunoda and kept working to improve him. But relinquishing control of other functions to another owner must surely be a consideration.

  3. Archibald Bumfluff
    24th March 2023, 18:47

    I have never liked the Torro Rosso / Alpha Tauri team.

    Of all the teams, they have no hope and no desire of ever challenging for the title. And on top of that, as a team they have no unique identity, being just another Red Bull team.

    1. Yet they won a couple of races, which some other teams never did, take haas for example.

  4. That entire team is just a rolling road block / strategical- DNF-on-command-to-trigger- an-opportune-safety-car at the behest of Hannah Schmidt.

    1. It’s not like Mercedes used to do with other teams and the available power to hold up RBR.
      If TR/AT ever influenced a race there would be an immediate response by all other teams.
      So except in your naughty dreams those things don’t happen.

Comments are closed.