Formula 1’s ‘new’ team was unveiled during a glitzy fashion show on Valentine’s Day and the world immediately fell in love with the fresh AlphaTauri livery. It now feels an eternity ago given the pandemic, lockdown, and new-look world that has subsequently emerged but AlphaTauri is only three races into its new chapter. So far it looks marooned in a midfield no-man’s land.
Back when Franz Tost, Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat were modelling their new jumpers in Salzburg, and trying to speak over the booming club music that echoed around Red Bull’s Hangar-7 in a time before masks and social distancing, the target was clear: build on the very impressive platform laid during the 2019 campaign. And, as ever, try and finish fifth in the standings.
In its final year as Toro Rosso the Faenza-based outfit scored two podiums and finished sixth in the Constructors’ Championship, just six points away from Renault. Its points tally was undoubtedly bolstered by those podiums but it was there to grasp the opportunities and was not a sporadic top 10 challenger – it took points in 15 grands prix. For 2020 out went the Toro Rosso name and in came AlphaTauri, with Red Bull wanting to promote the fashion brand it launched in 2017.
It has made slight year-on-year improvements, with the AT01 a stronger overall package than the STR13, but at the moment holds seventh in the Constructors’ Championship, with seven points, the high point being Gasly’s seventh in Austria. There’s a theme here. McLaren and Renault have both continued to make progress while AlphaTauri has been vaulted by Racing Point and its ‘pink Mercedes’. AlphaTauri was firmly mid-grid in Austria while at the last two races Gasly made it into Q3, albeit with Kvyat dropping out in Q1 in Hungary.
It therefore appears that AlphaTauri is firmly in the middle of a fractured ‘midfield’ that could currently be said to encompass most teams: it is behind Renault, McLaren and Racing Point (and the ailing Ferrari) but ahead of Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams.
“I think that’s basically where we thought we were coming in the first race after pre-season and testing,” said Gasly when asked by MotorsportWeek.com. “I think Racing Point to be fair is even more impressive than we expected. McLaren is slightly faster as well than we thought, and Renault is a step ahead of us, but I think in our target. think we know what we need to improve. And we hope that in the coming weeks with what’s coming on the car, hopefully we are going to be able to close that gap with Renault.”
There are still encouraging signs for AlphaTauri. In Austria and Hungary last year it scored one point – putting in some of its weakest displays – and thus a return of seven this season at the same tracks is an improvement. Gasly’s weekend in Budapest was wrecked by three separate mechanical issues, meaning he was unable to show the AT01’s potential, while Kvyat rose from 17th on the grid to the fringes of the points on race day.
“I don’t think there is something fundamental from the car which is wrong,” stresses Gasly. “Everything is working pretty well, but it’s just overall package, we need a bit more downforce, we need a bit more mechanical grip. And we still need I think to understand exactly how to extract everything from this new car.”
Kvyat, who picked up a point in Styria a week after his dramatic Austria exit (the cause of which remains under investigation), is now approaching a century of starts in Formula 1, a veteran at a team synonymous for running Red Bull proteges.
“I’m still understanding my car, my engineer and my crew, we learned a lot and every lap is important,” said Kvyat after finishing five seconds behind Charles Leclerc in Hungary.
“They have a lot of data from the race, from qualifying, so when we’ll come to Silverstone we’ll be trying to try different solutions, to try and suit my driving style. That’s what usually happens – you need to play a bit with set-up options – and I’m quite looking forward to that, to be honest. I’ll try to find good settings.”
But no-nonsense Technical Director Jody Egginton was forthright about the AT01’s current placement in the pecking order and the work that needs to be done.
“Long story short we’re not quite where we want to be,” he said in Hungary.
“There’s a lot of developments coming through. We brought a new front wing to the second race in Austria but we’re a little bit behind Renault at the moment and we need to be pushing them harder at the moment, that’s the first target. In terms of racing the pack ahead we’ve got a bit of work to do if I’m brutally honest.
“I think in reality we are in the middle of this no-man’s land and we are working hard to make steps to catch Renault, that’s where we are to be frank.”