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‘I'm not happy or proud’ – Franz Tost on his 18-year AlphaTauri tenure, retiring from F1, and pushing until the very end
It will be the end of an era on December 31, when Franz Tost closes the door to his office – his home for the last 18 years – in AlphaTauri’s Faenza factory. F1 Correspondent Lawrence Barretto sat down with the 67-year-old – F1’s second longest serving Team Principal – in Abu Dhabi for one last chat…
Tost is a remarkable man who has always been generous with his time over the last decade in which I’ve covered this sport. Never one to mince his words, the Austrian was consistently blunt and brutally honest – a refreshing trait that made interviewing him or chatting off record an absolute delight.
So it was with sadness that I sat down with him for the final time on the terrace of the AlphaTauri hospitality unit at Yas Marina. On the 30-plus occasions I’d previously interviewed him, he was always on time. This occasion was no different.
We cracked straight on. I was keen to know how a man who has spent almost every single day of the last 18 years working nearly all the hours of the day – he was always the first person in the factory and the last one out – was going to cope with having so much time on his hands from New Year’s Day onwards next year.
“My ‘to do’ list is quite long,” he says. “The last years, I was not able to do anything. I was all the time either at office, in airport, in aeroplane or race track. You know this! I’m looking forward to have the freedom if for example on Saturday or Sunday, it’s snowing, I can say OK Monday is powder snow and blue sky, I go skiing today. This was not possible for the last 20 years.”
But as much as he loves skiing – and he’s believed to be a pretty good skier despite hardly having any time to go over the last couple of decades – there’s no way a man who has dedicated his life to motor racing and bringing through young drivers can just fill his time with that. Turns out, he’ll be working even harder than before.
“I have already other things in mind,” he says. “The workload will not go down. With projects I have in mind, I think it will become even more. There’s no boring time coming up.”
He didn’t want to go into too much detail about those plans just yet, but he did say: “I’ll be going into the area of properties – something a bit different. But I also have some ideas regarding motorsport but not F1.”
While he might not be working in F1, he won’t let go completely. “I will watch F1,” he says. “I will watch FP1, FP2, FP3, qualifying and the race with all the data. I’ve already asked the team how I can get everything [data]. I will watch MotoGP, Indycar, other races as well.”
What about his plans for Christmas Day? Like most days during the year, Tost usually begins this holiday with a run – at least 5km – but rather than heading back home to put his feet up and enjoy Christmas dinner with his wife, he has always headed into the office.
He revealed to me at testing this year that he was in the office till 4.30pm, working on a sponsorship contract. This year, though, he won’t be there as his workload in his current job will have almost wound down, with Laurent Mekies – the former Ferrari Sporting Director – taking over on January 1.
“I have no idea what I’ll do,” he says. “I don’t care so much about Christmas. For sure I won’t be in front of a tree singing! I can only tell you what I won’t do. For me, it’s a normal day.”
Eighteen years in the same role is an impressive feat. Only Red Bull boss Christian Horner has been in his post longer of the current crop of Team Principals. And while under his leadership, AlphaTauri – formerly known as Toro Rosso – have completed more than 350 Grands Prix, which have yielded two wins, five podiums and over 800 points, Tost is irritated he never achieved his long-standing goal of P5 in the constructors’ championship (P6 was their best, achieved in 2008, 2019 and 2021).
“I am not happy or proud – the target was to finish fifth in the constructors’ championship and we didn’t achieve this goal,” he says. “Therefore there is no reason to be happy or proud. I’m upset we didn’t achieve this goal. I’m thinking to myself, ‘why you were too stupid to do this?’ Formula 1 is very fair. Either you can do it – or you’re not clever enough.”
You can see how hard it is for Tost to leave. There was the option to stay on in a sort of consultant role to ease the transition, but having led a team that has been his baby for 18 years, making all the decisions, such a role would have been difficult to do. He didn’t want to be hanging around as a spare part. So he opted for a clean break.
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While not a publicly emotional man, you could see how sad he was to leave the team on Sunday night in Abu Dhabi. “Of course I will miss the people,” he says. “We have a very strong team, a passionate team in Faenza. I like the people, I have worked together with many of them for 18 years. I will miss them of course.
“I will also miss F1, the F1 atmosphere. F1 is a special family. I was always looking forward to the different races, as every track has its own characteristic. These are all challenges that make life interesting.”
What also made life interesting was Tost’s incredible talent to mentor young drivers. During his tenure at the team he brought through Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen who have gone on to win seven world titles (and counting in the case of the latter) between them. When you bring up the subject of mentoring, Tost is at his most animated and expansive.
“I like to work together with young drivers,” he says. “This started with my work [as the Team Manager] at Walter Lechner Racing School. There were some good drivers there. It was interesting to educate them and work with them for a number of years. Those years in the school helped me to get a better knowledge how to educate young drivers.
“Then of course, we started with [Vitantonio] Liuzzi and [Scott] Speed [in the first season at Toro Rosso] and then Vettel came into the team. We had a lot of drivers who were quite fast – Sebastien Buemi, Jean-Eric Vergne, Daniel Ricciardo – and of course Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, who were a very interesting driving pair, the both of them were very competitive from the beginning and there were other drivers who were quite fast.
“Daniil Kvyat was quite fast too, Pierre Gasly is a highly skilled driver and now we have Yuki Tsunoda – who is very strong – and Ricciardo has come back to us at a high level. I’ve always liked to work with them, to see how they develop. Things have changed, though.
“We sometimes started a year with two rookies. Nowadays, you can’t do it. You will be last in the constructors’ championship as the level is so high in F1 from the technical side and driving side. There is no one in F1 who I would say does not deserve to drive an F1 car. The level is very high which means to educate driver, you must do many private tests.
“What Alpine did with Oscar Piastri was the right way. He did 4000-5000km which means he’s familiar with the speed and the car itself. The first races, he’s racing on tracks he doesn’t know apart from Bahrain. Then if there’s a Sprint race, you only have one hour to get ready for qualifying. That’s tough for a young driver.”
AlphaTauri just missed out on seventh in the constructors’ championship, despite launching a valiant fight back in the closing half of the season that yielded points in four of the last five races. Throughout, Tost was relentless in pushing the team to keep fighting until the bitter end. He refused to accept excuses from aerodynamicists and moved swiftly to recruit when he realised they had failed with the new regulations introduced for 2022.
“This year’s performance was by far not what we expected,” he says. “It started with the regulation change for 2022. We were really competitive in 2020 and 2021. Then there was the change and we went in the wrong direction from the aero side. Completely wrong.
“I recognised this in March or April. I went to HR and I said to the HR Director we need three to five senior aerodynamic engineers. He said to me, but the season has just started. I said ‘forget it, the car does not work. We are so far behind’. I know F1, you can’t catch up so much.
“This car was too slow, which means don’t think until July or August we will catch up. You need new people. I had many talks with people in the aero department, I felt they got lost with the new regulations.
“You have to change the people because engineers will never accept they went in the wrong direction. They will always have an excuse, and they’ll say the next upgrade will be better, and the update after will be better. Forget this nonsense, I don’t want to hear it anymore.
“We looked for new people, fortunately we found them but in F1 these days, they are blocked by one year gardening leave. We got the first in April [this year], the second in July and the third in September. For me it was important to find out whether this new aero people understand the philosophy – whether they go in the right direction or not.
“So, I pushed for a new upgrade at every race just to find out if they do a proper job or not, otherwise next year’s car would not be competitive, which is what I wanted to prevent. The last upgrades worked quite well. Apart from Austin, but this was a tyre problem, we were competitive.”
While Tost leaves having failed to achieve his goal of fifth in the constructors’ championship, the way he ran the team – and took the big decisions to change things up when he realised mistakes were made – means that he leaves the Italian squad in great shape and moving in the right direction. And for that, he should be proud.