The 2023 Formula 1 summer break is in full swing, presenting the opportunity to take stock of how each side’s season has unfolded ahead of the season’s resumption.
For AlphaTauri, the only way is up as the Faenza-based outfit currently sits bottom of the Constructors’ Championship.
Just three years ago, the Italian side was celebrating becoming grand prix winners for the second time with Pierre Gasly on home soil at Monza, before stringing together a strong campaign in 2021 that culminated with sixth place in the standings.
However, the return to ground effect aerodynamics with last year’s regulation change has proved tricky for Red Bull’s sister squad. Having accumulated a team-best tally of 142 points during the final year of the previous rules cycle, AlphaTauri slumped all the way to ninth in the standings last season with only 35 points to its name.
But any hope that last season would prove to be the exception rather than the rule has been dispelled with its struggles continuing profusely into 2023. The AT04 has consistently been one of the least competitive packages on the grid – a fact backed up by the poor results the team has achieved to this point.
AlphaTauri has only accumulated a pitiful three points after 12 race weekends, resigning it to bringing up the rear of the standings ahead of the second half of the campaign. The entirety of those points has come courtesy of Yuki Tsunoda, who has scored a hattrick of 10th-place finishes in Australia, Azerbaijan and Belgium.
The Japanese racer has improved considerably upon his opening two campaigns in the top tier, reducing the number of unforced errors and delivering exceptional consistency in difficult circumstances to provide some respite during a trying campaign for the entire AlphaTauri set-up.
Despite regularly being equipped with the slowest car in the field, Tsunoda has recorded an average finish of 12.87 and an average starting position of 14.17. Aside from scoring the entirety of AlphaTauri’s points, Tsunoda also remains the only man to haul the AT04 into Q3 this season, when he qualified ninth in Monaco.
While Tsunoda was expected to be troubled by the arrival of Nyck de Vries, the Honda-backed driver has demonstrated he is well-equipped to step up into the mantle of team leader left by Pierre Gasly’s departure, proceeding to beat his experienced counterpart in 18 of the 20 competitive sessions they shared as team-mates.
Ultimately, Tsunoda’s superiority up against de Vries was enough for Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko to wave the axe on the Dutchman’s time in F1 only 10 races in.
De Vries, who impressed with a run to ninth for Williams at last year’s Italian Grand Prix, arrived with a glowing reputation as a champion in both Formula 2 and Formula E. However, the 28-year-old struggled immensely in his rookie year and was one of only two drivers yet to score a point when he was deemed surplus to requirements ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
With de Vries’ dream F1 debut rapidly descending into a shortlived nightmare, his removal paved the way for the popular comeback of Daniel Ricciardo, who has openly admitted he is targeting a return to the Red Bull seat he previously vacated.
The Australian’s second venture with Red Bull’s second-string side began promisingly as he instantly beat Tsunoda at the Hungaroring, but the youngster returned the favour in Belgium.
Nevertheless, the results haven’t been much to write home about, prompting Team Principal Franz Tost, who will step down at the end of this season to be replaced by ex-Ferrari Sporting Director Laurent Mekies, to cut a forlorn figure on the AlphaTauri pit wall.
Ahead of the Saudi Arabian GP Tost even went as far as to say he “didn’t trust” his engineers, when it became clear the outlook for the team looked bleak due to an uncompetitive package.
Although the opening half of the season has been far from ideal for the Red Bull-owned entry, AlphaTauri only remains seven points adrift of Williams in seventh place. Providing Tsunoda can continue to deliver as he has thus far and Ricciardo can rediscover somewhere close to his best level, the Italian team could yet enjoy a positive end to 2023.