ANALYSIS: ‘We are building a new team’ – Inside the RB revolution as they target ‘bigger prizes’
A revolution is taking place at the newly-rebranded RB team – formerly known as AlphaTauri – and we were given the first glimpse of what that new era will look like on Thursday night when the Italian team revealed their 2024 identity at a party in Las Vegas.
For those who have followed F1 for a few years, you’ll notice the team have gone retro and returned to the shade of blue that Toro Rosso ran between 2017 and 2019. But the team have much bigger ambitions than they did then – and that will explain the massive overhaul.
They’ve taken on a new CEO in Peter Bayer, who joined last year, and a new Team Principal in Laurent Mekies – who started work in January after a period of gardening leave courtesy of rivals Ferrari. Alan Permane – who left Alpine last summer – joins as Racing Director while Tim Goss fills the newly-formed role of Chief Technical Officer from the FIA.
“How often do you tackle a project that is pretty much starting a new team?’ asks Mekies when we catch up ahead of the launch. “That’s the spirit that is flying around Faenza right now. We are building a new team on an extraordinary base.”
Once a team run out of a little factory in Faenza, the operation now has a bigger facility at their Italy base and is also in the process of expanding their presence in the UK. Such growth is necessary, says Mekies, who isn’t phased about the challenges of operating a team over two sites.
“We’ve had two headquarters for a long time – Faenza and Bicester,” he adds. “The departments in Bicester (where aerodynamics is based, along with some design functions) will move to new facilities in Milton Keynes.
“Historically, it’s always been a disadvantage to have two headquarters. But we are in 2024, the world has changed massively. The way people interact is also changing. We want to make it work. We want to make our company a location-free company.
“If tomorrow a department is split between Faenza and Milton Keynes, we think it’s OK. It is a challenge, but we think it’s carrying a lot with it a lot of advantages, we can hire the best people in the UK and hire the best people in Europe.”
'We’re pushing as hard as we can to gear up to fight for bigger prizes'
By moving to Milton Keynes, RB move to the same location as their sister team Red Bull. It’s part of a move to deliver efficiencies between the two entities which have the same owner.
Regarding taking parts from Red Bull – as is permitted by the regulations – Mekies says they are “not [taking] strictly speaking the maximum, but it’s quite close to it – as you would if you were owned by the same company”. They’ll use the front and rear suspension and the gearbox.
The subject has become a thorny one, with some teams not happy with the close collaboration. But Mekies doesn’t believe his team are doing anything wrong.
“The regulations are crystal clear regarding what you need to do yourself and what you can buy,” he says. “Historically, for example, it’s accepted that you are buying your power unit from a third party. Together with the PU, you can buy the gearbox and the suspension – those are the main items that you can if you decide to do so.
“The regulations make sure you’re doing the rest of the car on your own – your chassis, your aero, your cooling systems, everything that impacts performance – that is something that defines manufacturers and the regulations are very clear.
“We're in a situation where we have one owner of two teams, and of course we are being asked – 'what can we share?' We should share. We are looking at the regulations and doing the sharing we’re able to do. On the side we have in our hand – which is the largest part of the car – we’re pushing as hard as we can to gear up to fight for bigger prizes.
“It also comes with some downside. If you take someone else’s gearbox, which a lot of teams are doing, you will have to wait until the team has designed the gearbox to understand where your suspension points will be – which impacts your aero decisions. There are compromises.”
A tough early phase of the season
AlphaTauri pushed the development of last year’s car right until the last race, even bringing a new floor to the finale in Abu Dhabi as they tried to snatch P7 from Williams (something they missed out on) and complete a bounce back having spent most of the season rock bottom in 10th.
That choice to keep resources on last year’s car plus the upheaval in restructuring the team will have a negative impact on the start of the team’s 2024, a reality Mekies is prepared for.
“We have developed the car till the last part of the year so the starting point [of this year’s car] is not very different to what you’ve seen in Abu Dhabi last year,” he says when asked what to expect when this year’s machine hits the track.
“Together with all deep changes we are making, we will try and find our new path and development rate, which hopefully will take us to a better place. But we are conscious that the early phase of the season will probably be a fairly tough one because of how hard we pushed at the end of last year and how deep the changes are that we made this winter.”
He adds: “It’s natural this will push the proper development for later in the season. It’s a conscious choice we have made, even if it might hurt in the short term. We’re trying to build a new project and build it for the long-run.”
'We have an incredible balance between youth and experience with Yuki and Daniel'
The team was formed as a vehicle for preparing young drivers to step up to the works operation Red Bull – but in recent years, the team has leant more towards experience. Their current line-up features former Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Renault and McLaren racer Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda, who will enter his fourth campaign with the squad.
Mekies says the team will continue to have a focus on youth in the future – but given they have other targets, which are believed to be a requirement from Red Bull senior management to significantly improve competitiveness, there will be some compromises.
“Training young drivers for the Red Bull family is still a key aspect for the project though certainly, not the only one – as there are other parameters,” he says. “But it’s one of the key ones for why we are here. It’s been in the DNA for a long time. Today, we have an incredible balance between youth and experience with Yuki and Daniel. It’s pretty much the ideal combination.”
In Ricciardo, they have an eight-time race winner who has found his mojo again after a difficult stint at McLaren. His comeback was stunted in only his third race weekend back when he crashed and broke his hand in the Netherlands – but he returned in Austin and showed plenty of glimpses of the ‘old Daniel’ in the remainder of the season.
“He’s an incredible asset for the team,” says Mekies. “There are not many drivers in the field with his sort of pedigree, that many race wins, with that sensibility for the car, with that spirit for our people.
“If you have a large group of people that is just motivated a bit more because of all the energy a driver can convey, it makes a difference. It’s hidden lap time, not one you can see on your tracker on the wall. It makes a difference.
“It’s great to have him on board in terms of speed, spirit and car development. He was on everyone’s top list until a couple of years ago. Then obviously he had a rough patch. We’re lucky to be the ones to rebuild with him from that.
“There is no reason why Daniel is not on the same trajectory as the one that was putting him on those top lists a few years ago. He has from that era gained experience and a lot of learning about how to manage his energy. I see him very hungry, extremely motivated, extremely focused.”
His team mate Tsunoda had his best season to date last year, the Japanese driver finding a new level of consistency, and performing well against three team mates in 2023 – Ricciardo, Nyck de Vries and Liam Lawson.
“I’m very impressed with Yuki,” said Mekies. “Ultimately he has proven, month after month, season after season that his speed is incredible. He’s had quite a few team mates now and all the time the speed kept building up.
“If you combine that with his integration with the team, his technical understanding that is growing, you have a very strong package. He’s a hard worker, he’s living in Faenza, he comes to the factory extremely often. He has an incredible natural speed, so the combination with Daniel in terms of pushing each other makes it a very strong line up.”