BARRETTO: After their 2022 tumble, can a refreshed AlphaTauri charge back up the F1 grid this season?
New York Fashion Week welcomed a model of a different kind on Saturday, as AlphaTauri launched their 2023 Formula 1 season with a spectacular fashion-fused event in the Big Apple. It came just a week after sister team Red Bull were in town to kick off their campaign and F1 Correspondent Lawrence Barretto had a front row seat for the show.
The Lincoln Center – renowned for its performing arts heritage – has one of the best views in New York from its Appel Room, a theatre modelled on Greek amphitheatre that features a giant window framing the city’s famous Central Park and Manhattan skyline.
It was here that AlphaTauri rolled out a showcar draped in the 2023 livery (the blue and white remained, though this time there were some red streaks across the car courtesy of new sponsor ORLEN). Yuki Tsunoda and his new team mate Nyck de Vries were decked out in AlphaTauri’s spring-summer collection, rather than their race suits, and supported by a cast of models.
This was a fashion show first, and a car unveil second – fulfilling Red Bull’s strategy to use their second F1 team to promote the fashion line they founded seven years ago. Technology lies at the heart of both brands.
On the clothing side, AlphaTauri are proud of their 3D knitting machine that creates one seamless garment in under an hour. In F1 terms, the pursuit of as little as a hundredth of a second is relentless, with AlphaTauri – formerly Toro Rosso – bidding to become a team capable of fighting at the front of the midfield.
The mountain is steep, though, and consistency is difficult. The Italian team secured their first victory under the AlphaTauri moniker in 2020 courtesy of Pierre Gasly – but their form was wayward last year and persistent brake problems were a hindrance.
Ninth was a huge disappointment, not least because it was their worst performance across a season for a decade. But F1’s midfield is a tight affair. They were only two points shy of Haas in eighth, and 20 adrift of Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin. That is not an insurmountable gap. But they will need a better baseline car from round one.
They also enter the season without Gasly, who was responsible for two thirds of their points last year. The Frenchman has moved on to pastures new at Alpine, leaving a vacancy that was quickly filled by the very impressive super-sub De Vries.
The Dutchman’s performance standing in for Alex Albon at Williams in the Italian Grand Prix will go down as one of the all-time great debut drives – De Vries bringing home points for P9. That started a bidding war for his services, just weeks after it looked like his hopes of a full-time F1 drive were over for good.
Red Bull Motorsport Adviser Helmut Marko won that particular battle, the Austrian spending two days with the hopeful in Graz – just the two of them. While he doesn’t have Gasly’s immense F1 experience, De Vries has plenty he can offer AlphaTauri.
He arrives having spent several years as reserve for Mercedes, seeing up close how Lewis Hamilton, George Russell and Valtteri Bottas went about their business. De Vries has had a precious inside view of how Mercedes – the most dominant team of this era – operate, too.
And he’s got racing pedigree, having won both the F2 championship and Formula E title within the last four years. That experience helped him adapt very quickly when jumping in at Williams and convinced AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost that he will be at a very good level within a few races.
Expect him to settle quickly. De Vries was in good form when we chatted on Saturday ahead of the launch (the interview will be up across F1 digital channels soon) and is eager to get going. It’s clear is he has high expectations of himself.
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On the other side of the garage remains Yuki Tsunoda, the Japanese driver set to contest his third campaign. His target will be simple – find some consistency and harness his talent and raw speed into a point-scoring machine, rewarding the faith the Red Bull family have put in him.
Tsunoda will know this is more than likely a make-or-break year for him as Red Bull aren’t famed for giving young drivers too many chances. But he’s not letting it get him down. He has managed to cope with the pressure well in his first two seasons and seemed even more relaxed when we chatted.
Of course, what Tsunoda and De Vries – who first spent some time together when they had gin and tonics with Max Verstappen on a private jet back from a race last year – need is a strong car in which to deliver the goods.
Talking to boss Franz Tost – who worked every day bar Christmas Day in 2022, and only stopped that day because the rest of the company were enjoying the festivities – he says that the team have hit all the numbers they had hoped to in simulations with the new designs, but he’s steering clear of setting any targets given the tough campaign they endured last year.
Deliver, though, and not only will AlphaTauri continue to justify Red Bull having two teams in F1, but it also provides the works team with promotion options should they require them. The focus, then, will be on scoring regularly – and as a minimum, move up the grid to ensure last year’s ninth in the constructors’ championship was a blip rather than the new rule.