AlphaTauri Formula 1 team boss Franz Tost says he doesn’t trust his engineers anymore after they promised performance gains that have failed to materialise in the 2023 season so far.
The team found itself fighting at the front of the midfield in 2020 and 2021 – finishing sixth in the constructors’ championship in the latter – but it slipped to ninth during the first year of F1’s new aerodynamic regulations in 2022.
AlphaTauri hoped it could recover in 2023 but it found itself at the tail end of the order at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix with the team ninth fastest of the 10 teams in qualifying – and it could have easily been the lowest-placed team in the race without Lando Norris’s pneumatic issue and Nico Hulkenberg’s front wing damage.
Follow all the updates from the paddock plus the second practice session in Jeddah on The Race Live Hub
That performance led to team boss Tost making the startling revelation during the team boss press conference in Jeddah that he no longer trusts his engineers.
“Unfortunately I think it’s currently the performance level of the car because we expected a much better car [but] we struggled in Bahrain,” Tost explained when asked if Bahrain showed the AT04’s true pace.
“It looks a little bit different here, I hope that at least we’re with one car in Q3. But we have to do a lot of things to make the car faster, especially on the aerodynamic side, there are different programmes going on.
“The engineers tell me we make some good progress but I don’t trust them anymore, I just want to see the laptime because this is the only thing that counts.”
When asked if those remarks were sincere Tost double-downed on them and explained that it makes him cautious of banking on improvements.
“Because during the winter months they told me, ‘The car is fantastic, [we] made big progress’ then we came to Bahrain and we are nowhere,” Tost explained.
“What should I say?”
Asked whether his words were a case of ‘tough love’, Tost added: “I don’t care about that, I just want to see a fast car whether tough or not. I simply don’t care.”
The AlphaTauris looked marginally more competitive in FP1 at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix with Tsunoda inside the top 10, 1.5s adrift of Max Verstappen’s benchmark.
The AT04 looked particularly problematic under braking in Bahrain but with only five significant braking zones in Jeddah, the track theoretically could suit the AlphaTauri better than Bahrain did.
“There’s not enough downforce therefore the car is unstable under braking, and overheats the rear tyres. Washing out at the apex, then [hurts] traction. Everything that you need to do a good laptime,” Tost said when asked about the car’s shortcomings.
“Here in Jeddah the characteristic of the race track is completely different and both drivers are not satisfied with the car but satisfied that the car feels better than in Bahrain.
“Still have some understeer problems that we have to get rid of and the rest we will see.”
As for AlphaTauri’s development plans, Tost said updates were expected at the next two races in Melbourne and Baku – “it’s within our programme that we bring to nearly every race a small upgrade” – and that the budget cap “does not prevent us for development work”.
“The question is now, do we go in the right direction?” he added.
“As I mentioned before, during the winter months we saw that at least on the paper, on computer, we made big progress in comparison to last year’s car.
“But all these figures nowadays as I mentioned before I don’t trust them now.
“I want to see now with the next steps that we go in the right direction, that we can improve the performance of the car, that we are able to do this and this is a specialism work on the floor, brake ducts, and all the other aerodynamic parts.
“I think now with all the knowledge we have after Bahrain test and after the Bahrain race, the engineers should be in a position to sort it out and come up with new parts which improve the performance of the car.”