AlphaTauri has made changes to its aerodynamic department and will take more parts from Red Bull next season in an attempt to address its faltering Formula 1 form.
While Red Bull Racing won both titles last year and has had a dominant start to 2023, winning all three races, AlphaTauri has had the slowest car on average so far this season and is joint-last in the championship, ahead of Williams only on countback.
Having won a race in 2020 and enjoyed its best ever season in 2021, AlphaTauri’s decline in the F1 midfield has been dramatic and sudden since the start of a new era of technical rules in 2022.
Last year was a disappointing initial slump as AlphaTauri struggled with in-season aerodynamic development on an overweight car and found the budget cap hard to work around.
But it started 2023 with bullish expectations of re-establishing itself as a leading midfield team and scoring a lot more points with a lighter, redesigned car that it expected to be significantly improved, particularly with regards to last year’s low-speed weakness.
Since hitting the track in pre-season testing, it has been clear the AT04 has not worked as well as expected.
And during the disappointing run of early races, team principal Franz Tost has been surprisingly critical of his engineers, claiming he had been promised big gains and that he no longer trusted his technical team.
The team appears to have been exposed at the start of a new and immensely complex aerodynamic era, though, and it is clear that senior figures at AlphaTauri believe there is a weakness internally in this department.
The Race understands that an unspecified “reshuffle” of the aero division has taken place, with some personnel leaving and new staff being hired.
It follows the stinging Tost criticism during the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend, rooted in his disappointment that the car is not good enough to be where AlphaTauri needs to be, having hoped to finish at least sixth in the constructors’ championship in 2023.
AlphaTauri technical director Jody Egginton admitted in Australia that the team missed some of the targets it set over the winter as well, particularly related to low-speed performance.
He also insisted that Tost’s comments, which he suggested were taken out of context, had not had a negative impact on the technical team and that AlphaTauri was still “aligned” on what it needed to do.
“The disappointment from Franz’s side as a team principal is that the car’s not established well enough into the midfield to be where we want,” said Egginton.
“And he’s expressed that in a certain way. But at the end of the day, we’ve hit some of our targets – they were valid targets, they’re good targets – and we’ve not quite hit some of the others yet, but we will.
“It’s a very tight midfield. If you don’t get your targets, then you find yourself towards the back of that.”
Beyond personnel changes, there are bigger changes planned for how AlphaTauri works with its sister organisation.
In recent years AlphaTauri has prioritised what it calls greater “synergy” with Red Bull by buying more parts from its sister company, yet it has still refused to take as much as the rules actually permit.
Though AlphaTauri uses the Red Bull-designed rear suspension and shares the same engine and gearbox, it designs its own front suspension.
This is partly down to cost, as in the budget cap the nominal spend of buying a part is more expensive than actually making your own, and partly down to a desire to prioritise areas AlphaTauri backs itself to do a good job in independently.
It is also likely a legacy of the team being very wary of being seen to just clone Red Bulls given the common ownership and the can of worms that has always risked opening.
However, it is set to adopt an even closer cooperation with an “increase synergy parts usage in 2024”, The Race has been told.
This is likely to mean using year-old Red Bull front suspension from next year, marking a significant design shift as AlphaTauri uses a conventional pushrod front suspension whereas Red Bull’s is pullrod.
Given AlphaTauri’s aerodynamic struggles, getting more mechanical components from Red Bull would not seem to be a direct solution to its existing problems, especially as there are very strict rules separating teams’ aero work.
But it could potentially give AlphaTauri greater control over the mechanical platform and that in turn will make it easier to tackle its aero problems, provided it understands how to achieve this.
There is also talk of using the windtunnel in a better way. The meaning of this is unclear, given AlphaTauri shares Red Bull’s existing Bedford facility, but AlphaTauri has a greater windtunnel allowance than in the past because it only finished ninth in the championship last year, so it must be effective in using this extra time to aid its recovery.
It may also relate to speculation about the future of AlphaTauri, as with Red Bull planning a brand new windtunnel at its base in Milton Keynes there may be interest in having more of the AlphaTauri car designed and developed in close proximity to the tunnel it uses.
AlphaTauri already has an aero team of more than 100 people in Bicester but relocating more of the team in the name of efficiency has been speculated since pre-season testing.
With the performance contrast between the two Red Bull teams arguably greater right now than it has ever been, it is no surprise that the parent company has taken a closer look at AlphaTauri, the purpose it serves and how it works – especially in the wake of Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz’s death.