AlphaTauri is set to make a number of fundamental changes to the way it has operated since being bought as the sister team for Red Bull. Minardi was sold to the energy drinks group and completed as Toro Rosso from 2006 onwards with the plan to develop promising young drivers for the Red Bull team.
The success of the programme has been clear given Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen were bloodied at the Faenza based team before going on to become F1 champion drivers after their move to Red Bull Racing.
Big changes coming to AT
Yet the Toro Rosso programme at times has looked weak often with two inexperienced drivers failing to capitalise on the best possible results the team could have delivered.
Since the team was rebranded AlphaTauri, it has designed and built much of its own car despite there being the opportunity under the FIA rules to buy in parts from the senior Red Bull squad.
Yet big changes are coming in 2024. AlphaTauri will be ditched as the named sponsor and it is rumoured Adidas will take its place.
Further, the team will now buy from Red Bull many of the ‘listed parts’ allowed in the hope their car will be more competitive. In addition a number of the non-manufacturing functions are being relocated to England given the persistent difficulties they have found recruiting the right skill set in Italy.
Ricciardo steps in
And now it appears the young driver programme is also set to change according to CEO, Peter Bayer.
Having ditched rookie Nyck de Vries after just ten races this year, AlphaTauri called up the Red Bull reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian was given a contract to drive for AT until the end of the season and intended to be a benchmark by which Red Bull could asses the progress of Yuki Tsunoda.
However, at his third race weekend in Zandvoort, Ricciardo broke his hand and Liam Lawson was called up to replace the Australian.
The young Kiwi has impressed during the intervening races with a string of performances which have even challenged his experienced Japanese team mate. Lawson claimed his first points in Singapore having made it into Q3 and was tipped by many for a seat with AT in 2024.
Lawson has to wait
Yet within days AlphaTauri confirmed they would be continuing next year with Tsunoda and Ricciardo in a move which clearly changes the driver philosophy employed by the Red Bull energy group.
“We had lots of discussions about the future of the team,” revealed Bayer. “And our shareholders said, ‘we want you to continue and educate young drivers, but we also want you to be successful’.
“I think, ultimately, you can’t have both,” he added. “You can’t have two young – inverted commas – drivers in the team.
“And we were looking at what do we need to deliver that purpose and we finally came to the conclusion that, first of all, we only have two seats and Daniel is offering a lot of expertise, especially when it comes down to the set-up of the car, which is something that we were struggling with.”
Tsunoda now maturing
Tsunoda’s temperament has been questioned by F1 writers given his regular rants on the team radio when things are not going his way. Yet it appears since the arrival of Ricciardo in the team, Yuki’s performances have become more settled and Bayer is now confident his Japanese driver is over his inconsistency.
“Yuki, over the years has grown and is now coming to the pinnacle of his performance curve. So we thought that those two make the right team,” Bayer reveals.
“On top of that, I think it’s also good to have somebody like Liam just behind them to keep the fire warm under their seats and to make sure that we progress as a team.”
Bayer was asked whether this is now a change in driver recruitment philosophy for AT given since 2006 the team has been a place for young drivers to learn their F1 trade.
Young driver programme to change
“It is, but not absolutely,” he replied. “I think the reality today is if you’re looking at the grid, it’s so competitive, it’s so tight, that every tenth of a second is being fought for, and we came to the conclusion that in order to be contenders for the top midfield, we need one experienced driver but we’ll continue to grow young talent that ultimately shall end up in Red Bull Racing.”
This may be bad news for Lawson’s immediate future, but the young New Zealander has already made his mark.
“I think everybody will agree that,” said Bayer. “You know, his baptism in Zandvoort was incredibly challenging. And with, you know, the rain and the track being a difficult track and he mastered it, and he kept performing.
“He’s done an excellent job working with the engineers. You can hear him… Well, actually, you don’t hear him because he’s listening. And then he’s improving lap by lap. He’s a very quick learner.
“He’s fighting. And I really have to say, I admire what he did in Singapore. His car seemed to be double as wide as the others. And I called him Liam the Lion afterwards, because I thought that was an impressive performance. And he keeps delivering, so very happy to have him on board as part of the family.”
Perez under threat
Yet Lawson may not have to wait too long for his big chance, given the continued poor form of Sergio Perez. After another lacklustre effort in Qatar, Helmut Marko chose to point out that Checo’s place is not secure and AlphaTauri’s three drivers will be ready should the call come from on high.
“Now it becomes critical when two such strong drivers are in the McLaren,” Marko remarked to ORF.
“I hope we can save second place [in the drivers championship],” he added. “It looked quite comfortable for a while, but now the lead is melting.
“Checo has to deliver now,” Marko warns. “We have three drivers in the AlphaTauri team, and Lawson is a reserve driver for four cars. So a lot can happen.”
The stakes are now higher in Formula One than when Toro Rosso was born and the future of the Faenza based team is being re-written. No longer will it be merely a home for two promising juniors, from now the team wants to beat its closest rivals and to do that it must change.