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Analysis

How AlphaTauri tries to avoid F1 development "banana skins"

Following the hectic period of testing and the first three races, most Formula 1 teams will be bringing their first significant updates of 2022 to Imola this weekend.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT03

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT03

Red Bull Content Pool

Everyone has been obliged to learn quickly about their new cars, with data from the track fed back to factory, and assessed alongside the numbers from the windtunnel and CFD.

PLUS: Why F1 teams still deem windtunnel investment necessary

The added complication is the porpoising characteristic with which most teams are still struggling, and which is not easy to model back home. Throw in this year's tighter budget cap and efficient development is arguably more important than ever before – teams cannot afford to take the wrong route and waste resources on R&D projects that don't pay off.

Last season, the AlphaTauri was at times the third or fourth fastest car, with Pierre Gasly regularly qualifying in the top six. But this year the Faenza outfit has slipped back a little relative to some of its midfield rivals, and thus an update package for Imola is eagerly anticipated. It will be a big weekend for the local team.

"It's the first sort of reasonably significant update of the year," says technical director Jody Egginton. "The expectation is that we'll see a clear step forward in car performance from that, once we've got it working properly.

"The main part of the update is the floor, and there'll be a front brake duct update as well. But the floor is the big area at the moment, there's a lot of performance in there. There's a lot of banana skins if you don't get it right as well.

"So we're making sure that we've gone the right way. We've done a lot of subtle changes in these last events to try and put all that together, to give us a clearer view on which way we want to go with a major update for the floor."

How AlphaTauri has tackled 2022 thus far is an interesting case study, as it reflects the sort of challenges that all teams are facing. Egginton confirms that the team waited to see how the car performed on track before actively pushing on with manufacturing new parts.

"Like every team we had updates in the background," he says. "We had things that performed well in the tunnel, a range of things ready to go. We did a lot of learning, as everyone would have done in winter testing, and then we've gone to the first race.

Jody Egginton, AlphaTauri

Jody Egginton, AlphaTauri

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

"There's been no surprises, but there's track specifics regarding how the floor behaves, which are different to how it would have been in the previous regulations. Then we've pushed the go button on certain updates based on what we've learned in winter testing and the first race, and left some stuff on the sidelines, where we've said, 'Actually, that's not the way we want to go at the moment.'

"That's why we've delayed a little bit the first update to race four, just to make sure we were doing the right things and we were comfortable we're going the right way. There's been an awful lot of learning over these last couple of months."

AlphaTauri has followed a similar strategy to Ferrari, not making many significant changes to the car, and instead learning as much as possible about the original version. That stability has proven to be very valuable.

"We've been doing a lot of work with the base spec of the car," says Egginton. "As usual, mechanical set-up items, but we've also been playing around with very small aero updates, floor updates, floor stiffeners, small things, and trying to get a good read on that and correlate our CFD and aero models.

PLUS: Why F1's midfield over-achiever still has more to do at AlphaTauri

"We're at the point where we've pushed the button on some updates based on our learning, mainly in winter testing and the first race, and then that's our step forward. But up to now, it's been very busy just data gathering and learning, with a lot of small updates."

AlphaTauri only recently joined all its rivals in moving from a 50% windtunnel to the now standard 60%. That extra level of accuracy has helped, although dealing with porpoising remains a challenge.

"Obviously, this car has been designed at 60%," says Egginton, "so CFD to windtunnel to track correlation is quite good. The area where we don't have all of the answers, and we've had to use a lot of track data, is the porpoising. In the windtunnel it's not something that's easy to activate, you don't want to be touching the belt with a model.

"CFD can give you some trends on how porpoising may affect your aero, but you need to correlate at the track. So we've been doing that as part of this process, and now we're at the point where we can say, 'Okay, this is what we want from the floor, these are the risks with porpoising, this is how we think we can sort of mitigate it.'

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

"There's a lot of performance to be had from the floor. But if you haven't got a good read on porpoising, you can have a high performing floor, but you can't run in the right window because of porpoising. And then it's not a high performing floor.

"All the work we've been doing in the background has been really focused on making sure we're clear which way we want to go, before we do a major update."

Like other teams, in parallel with efforts to improve the aero AlphaTauri is maintaining a close check on weight. All of the 2022 cars were born over the limit, even after the FIA increased it at the last minute, but some teams have a bigger issue than others.

"I think potentially, we're slightly better than the middle," explains Egginton. "You never know exactly where other teams are. We're not as comfortable as we want to be, but we're sort of reasonably okay.

"It's still a focus, we're not relaxed about it, it's still a topic. And we want to improve the situation, and not let it go the other way. And I think that's pretty much the same for all the teams, to varying extents. But I'm pretty confident we're nowhere near the worst on the grid at the moment.

"The weight limit is certainly a challenge with these new regulations. I mean, the safety requirements for the chassis, there's a mass overhead there, the standard parts, the wheels, the tyres, there's a mass overhead there. And the general regulations themselves, it's very easy to lose control of the mass.

"When we lay the car out, we keep a very close eye on the major masses of the car, and what's happening. And it's under constant evaluation. There's been small increases in the permitted mass of this car as we've gone through the design phase.

"And we've been really focused on it. It's been challenging, it's the first year of a big regulation change. And we're chipping away at it now.

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

"We're not comfortable, no one ever is really comfortable with this. But we've got a good view on what we need to do to make improvements there.

"It's the same for every team, really, it's very easy to lose control of it with an update, or with a general dreaded creep of mass increase with reliability updates and other things through the season. It's a big focus for everybody. And I'm sure it will be like that all year."

Saving weight always costs money, so there's a trade-off to be made with developments that have a clearer performance benefit.

"The cost cap forces you to make sure everything you do counts," Eggington continues. "And if you're just doing an update because something's too heavy, you'd like to try and avoid that, really.

"Everyone's focused on getting their dollars to go as far as they can. And if you can bring performance to the car, and do a new front wing, for instance, and take a bit of weight out fantastic, then you've got an aero benefit, and potentially a mass benefit.

"If you're just scything weight out of the car for no aero performance, it's a bit painful to take, really. So we're always trying to combine that. First year with the regulations you always as you run the car fine margin, try to exploit it."

As Egginton adds, everything comes back to making the most of your hard cash: "With the cost cap, it's not an open wallet.

"You've got to be smart with what you do, because you've got to make that money work for you through the year, and not just use it or for certain activities and realise that you've come up short in car performance terms later in the year."

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT03

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT03

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

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