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Why AlphaTauri’s main F1 weakness could be bad news for Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo may be all smiles about his Formula 1 race return, but he is set to face a brutal reality check when he hits the track in Hungary. 

Daniel Ricciardo, Third Driver, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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Rather than making his comeback in the kind of race-winning RB19 machinery that he shone with during this week’s Silverstone tyre test, he will be battling a car that has left AlphaTauri currently at the bottom of the constructors’ standings. 

Worse than that, the Australian will also find himself having to cope with a critical weakness in the AT04 that is in the very area that left him struggling so much during his two years at McLaren. 

Ricciardo is well known for responding well to a car that is strong under braking and corner entry. Give him something that performs with those characteristics and his brilliance comes to the fore, as has been witnessed many times with his trademark late-braking overtaking manoeuvres. 

But, as was exposed during his McLaren spell, if the car he is driving does not give him confidence on corner entry, things can quickly spiral out of control. As he told F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast last year about the corner entry issue: “It all starts there.  

“If you struggle with a corner on the exit, normally it’s a product of what’s happened through the corner that’s put you in a position of, let’s say, difficulty on the exit. Most difficulties start on the entry – maybe not all, but most.” 

Therefore, it is probably not ideal for Ricciardo to know that one of the main issues that Yuki Tsunoda and the ousted Nyck de Vries have struggled with this year is a limitation in the late entry phase to corners, which triggers rear instability. It’s not a great thing for driver confidence. 

Speaking recently before the Ricciardo decision was made, AlphaTauri’s head of trackside engineering Jonathan Eddolls was open about this critical issue the team was chasing a solution for. 

“The late entry, let's say rear instability, which was the bigger weakness, that's the area we've been working on,” he said. “We have improved it, but it's still a weakness, I would say.” 

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

AlphaTauri’s problem appears to be triggered as, when the car slows a lot, the rear ride height lifts as the downforce peels off. This then triggers an aero imbalance. 

Speaking earlier this year, technical director Jody Egginton said: “That's one of the targets we didn't quite nail pre-season…and we were in no doubt what we wanted to do. 

"We were looking to improve rear load at high rear ride heights in a very basic sense. And it's the load drop-off of these ride heights at the moment which causes our instability. 

"If we've improved the rear load on the entry phase, if you've got more rear load, you've got more stability. And we're working on trying to carry that further into the corner, so that the driver can push harder towards late entry apex." 

With the current generation of ground-effect cars proving quite tricky to find a set-up compromise that can cope with a variety of different corner speeds, Eddolls admits that the consequences of a problem in one area of a lap can spread out elsewhere. 

“With the late entry, and with that part being a weakness, to try to address that, you end up making other areas of the car slower,” he said. 

“For example, let's say you wanted to add aero balance for high-speed, which improves the balance but also gives you more load.  

“If your low-speed entry is a limitation, that can limit how much flap or aero balance you can add. So, a weakness in one area can actually have implications everywhere.  

“Obviously we're trying to find a compromise that gives us globally the best lap time. But that's the trade-off that we're doing each week really.” 

Nyck de Vries, AlphaTauri AT04

Nyck de Vries, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The raft of updates that AlphaTauri brought to the British GP were aimed to improving this area, but they did not receive a ringing endorsement from Tsunoda

However, work continues and, as Eddolls said, it will likely take some time for the team to work out how best to extract performance. 

“You change aero development, and there's like an inertia, it takes time for those parts to get to the car,” he said. “But from now on, we should start seeing the effect of the change of target in that area of the map.” 

How quick AlphaTauri can get on top of it could be key to Ricciardo’s fortunes over the rest of the campaign.  

But, for the Australian himself, he may feel that having lived through a bad experience with corner entry at McLaren, he is much better placed to know what is needed to sort things out this time. 

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