AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost has challenged his team to “consistently be at the top of the midfield pack and to improve further”, but is such an outcome realistic in 2021? MotorsportWeek.com analyses what AlphaTauri needs to do to achieve its goal.
Build on the solid AT01
AlphaTauri’s AT01 was a solid midfield car, designed by the adept Jody Egginton, and facilitated by its enhanced synergy with Red Bull in recent years. That allows for a multitude of shared components, most notably the rear-end, gearbox and hydraulics, allowing AlphaTauri to concentrate its focus elsewhere. It is not quite a hand-me-down from Red Bull – such a proclamation would do a disservice to Egginton and his crew across bases in Bicester and Faenza – with the development of the car through 2020 also encouraging, allowing AlphaTauri to remain mid-grid. It was a car that gave its drivers confidence and worked across a range of conditions, rather than falling into a narrow window, as befell some rivals. The AT02, unsurprisingly, is not a waywardly different machine to the AT01, in the same vein that its predecessor was not a huge departure from the 2019-spec STR14. However, there are still changes.
“The work which has been undertaken to develop our car for 2021 goes far beyond compliance with regulation changes and has involved changes to nearly all aero surfaces and also development and repackaging large parts of the car, which are hidden, in order to achieve these changes,” said Technical Director Jody Egginton. “We have spent a lot of time working to recover the aero losses as a result of the regulation changes, while also focusing on increasing and improving the cars aerodynamic operating window.
“I really believe the AT01 was the best car to be produced by the team. The STR14 was not a bad car but the AT01 developed very well through the season and its performance was a credit to the hard work of everybody involved in the project. The use of Red Bull Technologies supplied gearbox, rear suspension and some front suspension components is now in its third year for us but for 2021 we have elected to continue with the same rear suspension and gearbox design as we used in 2020.
“We’ve elected to use our two tokens for a new nose and also redesigned the outboard front suspension, as a result of this we have elected to update some Red Bull Technologies supplied steering components to 2020 specification, as permitted by the regulations.”
Gasly to continue red-hot form
Pierre Gasly’s stint at Red Bull was a disaster but since returning to Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri he has thrived. Gasly, who resides in Italy, famously scored victory on AlphaTauri’s home turf at Monza, holding off former team-mate Carlos Sainz, and the 25 points he earned accounted for a third of his overall total. Yet that Gasly bagged 50 points elsewhere was a testament to his season-long ability behind the wheel of the AT01, both in qualifying and in the race. Gasly’s drive to eighth in Belgium – a year after the death of close friend Anthoine Hubert – was superb, as was sixth at the Nurburgring, fifth at Portimao, and sixth in Bahrain. Qualifying fourth at Imola, a stone’s throw from the team’s Faenza factory, was an outstanding achievement. An early coolant leak robbed Gasly of the opportunity of legitimately fighting for the podium. It was not a second-row grid spot achieved in a rain-hit session or through a spate of penalties for others but on pure performance. If AlphaTauri is to stand a chance of reaching Tost’s goal it will need Gasly to maintain, or even better, the results he earned in a superb 2020.
“I think last year I did a very good job and I was able to drive the way I wanted and I managed to have an excellent relationship with my engineers, we understood what the team needed, what I needed and how to work together and that’s what brought the results,” said Gasly. “I was really satisfied, but there is still room for improvement, room for fine tuning. What you need over the whole year is to be consistent and to score at every opportunity. We need to see how the car goes in Bahrain and then we’ll know more. But the key will be consistency and not to make any mistakes.”
“I reckon Pierre is one of the strongest drivers in F1 nowadays,” added Tost. “Pierre’s good technical understanding allows him to get the best out of the car. Pierre has been with the team for some time now, so he is familiar with all procedures and with our way of working.”
Get Tsunoda up to speed
Dany Kvyat did not match Gasly in 2020 but he still delivered 32 points, including fourth at Imola, and ended the year with over 100 races to his name. In his place comes a rookie driver who has accelerated through Formula 4, Formula 3 and Formula 2 but is starting from scratch in Formula 1. Yuki Tsunoda, Formula 1’s first 2000s-born driver, was plucked from Japan by Red Bull and Honda – who signed him on the advice of ex-F1 racer Satoru Nakajima – and only competed on Europe’s racing scene from 2019. Tsunoda had to adapt to a new way of life, new food, new culture and new languages, initially based in Switzerland, to be close to Formula 3 team Jenzer Motorsport. As a rookie in Formula 2 he impressed with his aptitude, pure speed, and tyre management skills, and Helmut Marko was swiftly convinced Tsunoda was ready for Formula 1. The squad is adept at getting newbies up to speed, given its role in training youngsters for Red Bull, and has handed Tsunoda Formula 1 track time where possible, including organising private sessions at Imola and Misano.
“This will be my rookie season and I will be pushing hard right from the beginning to adapt to the car as much as possible,” said Tsunoda. “However, I’m not afraid to make mistakes – I will of course try and limit them – but they are inevitable at the beginning. I am confident I can learn from my mistakes though, as I proved last year in Formula 2.”
Tost has high hopes from AlphaTauri’s new charger even if he is wary there will be setbacks.
“We expect his learning curve to be quite steep, so he should be able to achieve a good performance quite quickly,” he said. “Of course, he will have some crashes, that’s part of the development programme, but what is very extraordinary on his side is the car control, his strength on the braking and his speed in fast corners. If he continues his learning process, like he did at the tests in Imola and Abu Dhabi last year, I’m sure we will see some fantastic races.”
If AlphaTauri is to achieve its ambition it will need Tsunoda to hit the ground running in a tight midfield laced with experienced race winners and world champions.
Hope Honda delivers a gem
In the mid-2010s Toro Rosso’s prospects were not assisted by bouncing between Ferrari and Renault as its engine partner, denying the team the ability to form a lasting relationship with one entity. But that changed in 2018 when it switched to Honda. From the outside it was understandably regarded as a chance for Red Bull to assess the marque as a viable option for the senior team but Toro Rosso poured substantial effort into forming a human relationship with Honda. That co-operation, and cultural understanding, was greatly appreciated by the Japanese firm. It was fitting that AlphaTauri’s victory at Monza came on a weekend in which special stickers adorned the AT01 to mark the 50th grand prix between the partnership. Honda will exit Formula 1 in a works capacity after 2021 but the recent agreement with Red Bull means its powertrains will continue to be used by both teams through 2024 – and the marque has vowed not to rest up in spite of its impending departure.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were going to introduce a new PU for this year, however, given all the difficulties and restrictions because of the long F1 shutdown, combined with the European lockdown and delay in parts supply, we had decided to postpone it to 2022,” said Honda’s Toyoharu Tanabe.
“However, taking into account the decision announced in October 2020, that Honda would leave the sport at the end of 2021, we reassessed the situation and changed our plan again to reintroduce it in 2021.
“It was very tight timing to make this change, but we managed to bring forward the development and preparation programme. At Honda, we felt that we really wanted to use all our technical know-how before leaving the sport.
“In order to improve power and reliability, we have made modifications to the ICE, turbine and ERS. This is our fourth year with Scuderia AlphaTauri and in order to improve as a whole, we have also improved the installation and packaging of the entire PU.”