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Why AlphaTauri’s new F1 driver stance is pure “gold” for its engineers

Whereas AlphaTauri was once a finishing school for potential Red Bull Formula 1 drivers, it is now plotting a different path to be more in control of its own destiny. 

Daniel Ricciardo, Scuderia AlphaTauri, with Yuki Tsunoda, Scuderia AlphaTauri

Daniel Ricciardo, Scuderia AlphaTauri, with Yuki Tsunoda, Scuderia AlphaTauri

Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

As it heads to a fresh identity under new team leadership in 2024, there has been a noticeable shift in its approach to the driver line-up too.

Gone is the priority to focus on youth and bring on the latest Red Bull rookies, to see if they have what it takes to cut it in F1 before potentially moving to the energy drink company’s main squad. 

Instead, AlphaTauri is about to begin a campaign with its most experienced driver line-up in years with Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda on board. 

That shift towards more experience is one that the team’s engineers are rubbing their hands in glee about – because they think the current generation of cars, allied to restrictive testing rules, means F1 has become a tough ask for rookies. 

Guillaume Dezoteux, the team’s head of vehicle performance, feels that the value of having wise heads on board has increased dramatically – which is why he and his colleagues are excited about the partnership of Tsunoda and Ricciardo.

“We are looking forward to having this combination of drivers because, obviously, these cars don't run much and they are in constant development,” he explained. 

“The car is always slightly different and the experience the driver is able to bring is gold for being able to find a good mechanical set-up.  

Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri AT04

Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Erik Junius

“We have just a couple of free practices in changeable conditions and, in that, we need a driver to give us a read of what the car is doing and also to put this understanding in perspective of the season.  

“Is it the strength of the car, or is it a weakness, or are there other tracks where it may become a strength? That's really important.” 

Dezoteux thinks nothing highlights the challenges that rookies face better than the example of Liam Lawson, who showed well at tracks he knew but struggled at those venues that were new to him. 

“Just look at Qatar,” he said. “Liam has done very, very strong races on tracks he knew. And then coming to [Losail], with a lot of wind, changeable conditions, not too much free practice where you can actually adapt the set-up, and things are definitely more difficult.  

“He's doing a great job. But you can see the benefit of having an experienced driver in guiding the car set-up definition.”

One of the realities of the current generation of cars is that the key to their performance is not how they perform in areas they are good, but how well their weaknesses can be overcome. 

This is something else that Dezoteux believes plays to needing experienced drivers on tap, as they can work their way better through the inevitable balance problems that every team faces on a race weekend. 

Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri AT04, beaches in the gravel and retires from the Sprint race

Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri AT04, beaches in the gravel and retires from the Sprint race

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

“If you ask all the drivers 'how is the car feeling', you're not going to get a great answer. I don't think anyone is happy with the way the car behaves,” Dezoteux said. 

“Everybody's complaining about grip. And it's obviously a strength of experienced drivers to put that in the context of their career and to understand: 'Okay, what is the good driving style for this condition? And what's the best way to drive around it?'

“Obviously a car with more downforce would go faster, but it wouldn't become easy. I don't think Max Verstappen's car is easy to drive, but he has probably found the way to drive around the limitations and extract more performance from that. And this is the challenge for young drivers. 

“Getting a proper read of what the car is doing is very difficult, and keeps changing constantly: the tyres, the fuel load, the engine mode, the wind, and the track condition. So, it's a moving target, and it requires a lot of experience to actually build a picture from that.” 

Ricciardo is returning to AlphaTauri for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix after missing the last five races because of a hand injury he picked up at Zandvoort. 

He will be coming back to a much-improved car, which has been upgraded extensively since the Singapore Grand Prix. It will also feature a new floor for the Austin weekend. 

Speaking about the planned upgrade, Dezoteux said: “We have a new floor coming .... that's the main part everybody is developing a lot. There is still a lot of performance to find on those cars on the floor area.  

“We are hoping that's going to be another step in the same direction because it's fair to say that, since Silverstone, the updates have delivered and that's a very positive sign for our aerodynamic department.”

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