There has been little to get hugely excited about in launch season given the stability in Formula 1 between 2019 and 2020 – with a lot of focus on the impending changes for 2021 – but Red Bull, courtesy of fashion brand AlphaTauri, provided something in the way of showbiz to get the new campaign rock and rolling.
Formula 1 launches used to be synonymous with glitz, glamour and extravagance but in recent years – particularly in these more economically savvy times – they have been toned down. Some teams opt for a simple roll-out in a pit lane, others have a low-key affair at a factory, while some barely even bother and hold private events in order to keep control of a message. Here’s what we want you to see, and write, and thanks for abiding by it.
There was nothing subdued about the rebranding of the newest name to compete in Formula 1.
Red Bull expanded its motorsports portfolio in the mid-2000s and Formula 1 was a key component of that growth. It bought Jaguar Racing from Ford and turned it into its own Formula 1 team, which soon competed for wins and titles at the front of the grid. One year later it acquired Minardi, rebranded it as Toro Rosso – as a nod to the team’s Italian heritage – and developed the team as a junior outfit. Toro Rosso largely existed to bring through drivers to Red Bull and it succeeded in honing the talents of Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. In recent years that collaboration has remained strong – allowing for shared technology – but for 2020 the Toro Rosso name is no more. Enter AlphaTauri.
AlphaTauri – pronounced ‘Lowry’ rather than ‘Tory’ – has been the fashion arm of Red Bull’s growing empire since 2016 and it is poised to expand on a global basis this year, explaining why its junior Formula 1 team has taken on the identity. Therefore while for some teams 2020 is almost a continuation of 2019 – given stable sporting and technical regulations – thus explaining their low-key launches, for the crew at Faenza this is a fresh start, even if the faces are familiar.
Red Bull’s impressive glass-domed Hangar-7 played host to around 500 guests and other luminaries on Friday evening, while over in Milan a Formula 1 car was attached to the wall outside of the Rinascente fashion store, ahead of the city’s Fashion Week. AlphaTauri certainly went big. Hangar-7 usually houses a stunning collection of Red Bull’s private automobiles and even planes, and such was the need to rearrange the furniture that the staggeringly beautiful Douglas DC-6B – which guests were allowed to explore – had been moved half outside. The Formula 1 livery launch was preceded by an assortment of entertainment, including glass bottle balancing (don’t ask), dancing, and a fully-fledged fashion show, in which AlphaTauri’s spring and summer 2020 collection was unveiled and modelled on an expansive catwalk (or should that be bull-walk?)
It all took place with an impressive multi-tiered stage as a backdrop, accompanied by booming music more typical of a nightclub than a team launch, courtesy of a DJ nestled into one booth of said stage. Even the unveiling itself was impressive, with a white curtain – onto which lasers and lights were shone – shimmering and dropping to reveal the AlphaTauri livery. And when the world got its first glimpse of the scheme there was an intake of breath, widespread acclaim and applause, while social media lit up amid a spree of likes and favourable retweets. A white-and-dark-blue liveried Honda jet in Hangar-7 had given an indication of what was to come, but even that looked underwhelming in comparison to the finalised Formula livery. It is of course not the first time that Formula 1 and fashion has mixed, given Benetton Formula’s success in the 1990s, but this was Red Bull’s take on combining the two industries and it is clear that this is a serious and long-term project. The revised team kit that was unveiled on Friday evening is already an interim spec, with the 2021 version in development, given the timeframes involved in fashion. The drivers, in their predominantly white race suits, resembled astronauts, adding to the image of this being a new team, new start, new vision. To infinity and beyond.
But while there was dancing, music, partying that went on into the early hours, and an assortment of fresh clothing there were two objects on stage that signalled that the team’s ambitions have never been restricted to simply existing as Red Bull’s play thing. They were the trophies Toro Rosso picked up for Pierre Gasly’s second-place finish in Brazil and Daniil Kvyat’s third in Germany last year. Toro Rosso finished sixth in the Constructors’ Championship and did so with a tally that left them a mere six points shy of manufacturer squad Renault.
Team Principal Franz Tost – who understandably did not appear to be the most comfortable person in the room – set out the goals. Guess what? It is fifth place. It is always fifth place. There have usually been smirks when Tost outlines the ambition of achieving such a lofty position (and his joke that a victory is the next ambition was a little far) and yet fifth spot in the Constructors’ Championship is more realistic than ever for AlphaTauri. The tightly-congested nature of Formula 1’s midfield means a strong team could still wind up ninth, but last year Toro Rosso almost broke into the magic top five. This was a big night of razzmatazz but there was no slip of focus. None of the team members could enjoy the late-night revelry as they were all checked-in on a private flight that left Salzburg before dawn on Saturday, straight to Rimini, for the AT01 to be shaken down at local track Misano.
AlphaTauri has retained Pierre Gasly and Dany Kvyat as its two race drivers; Gasly returned to the squad mid-2019, after a chastening experience at Red Bull, while in comparison to his rollercoaster first career Kvyat’s campaign was welcomingly tame. In being pulled here, there and everywhere by a throng of guests (and us) Gasly was keen to stress that January 1 marked a new chapter and a reset after his topsy-turvy 2019, and the Frenchman certainly came across as someone who was refreshed following the winter break.
“There is always something to learn,” he said. “This will only be my third season in Formula 1. I feel better prepared than last year, as I have a bit more experience. Towards the end of the year, together with the people in the team, we really discovered how to understand what we needed from each other and how to get the most out of our package. We must continue to push and it will be important to perform consistently, scoring points throughout the season. We have to seize every opportunity, just as we did last year.”
Kvyat was very on message in praising AlphaTauri’s clothes – explaining how they became incorporated into his travel gear in 2019 – and he concurred with Gasly’s assessment.
“You always want to improve on the previous season,” said Kvyat. “Considering how tight the midfield battle was and not knowing if and how we have all progressed it’s impossible to predict, but I expect a big show on track and we want to be leading the midfield pack. We should just try to perform well at every race and that will bring us a strong season like it did last year.”
The AT01 features the rear end from last year’s Red Bull RB15 – mirroring the approach it had in 2019 – which has allowed AlphaTauri’s more limited headcount to focus on unearthing gains elsewhere on the car. There may have been a revolution off-track but on-track there’s not quite the same change in approach.
“It is a strong evolution of what we put in place for STR14, the 2019 car,” said Technical Director Jody Egginton. “That’s because the changes to the technical regulations for 2020 are fairly minimal. So there’s nothing fundamental which has required a massive re-think. The focus has gone on pushing forward all the main priorities in terms of packaging the power unit, packaging suspension, the systems and integrating all of that together to take the car to the next level and to give us maximum aero freedom.”
On-track results are one factor but off-track there is a real feeling of a team reborn. It has an identity and, yes, it is still owned and controlled by Red Bull, as it was when the Formula 1 paddock rolled out of Abu Dhabi last December. But the AlphaTauri era is firmly and fully underway.