Why a slumping F1 team is so certain it's about to recover - The Race
Formula 1

Why a slumping F1 team is so certain it’s about to recover

Aug 13 2022
By Edd Straw

AlphaTauri headed into Formula 1’s August break eighth in the constructors’ championship after a run of five races without a point.

But despite his team having only the eighth-fastest car on average and managing just six points finishes in 13 races – its worst run since 2018 – lead driver Pierre Gasly is optimistic.

AlphaTauri introduced a major aerodynamic upgrade package two races before the break at Paul Ricard. Despite not yielding improved results, and the team seemingly struggling to keep up with the development pace of its midfield rivals, Gasly is confident that it is delivering better performance.

The question is whether AlphaTauri can improve its understanding of the package, which showed promising signs on the first day of practice in France but has proved inconsistent, and unleash more pace after the break.

Asked by The Race if he expected a stronger second half of the year given the promising signs shown by the upgrade, Gasly replied with an emphatic “100%”.

The lack of results in the first two races with the upgrade has not shaken his belief that it can be game-changing.

“We knew at the start of the season that this year is a race of development; new regulations, new cars, so people are going to develop,” Gasly continued.

F1 Grand Prix Of Hungary Qualifying

“It doesn’t matter how you start, what matters is to have an upward curve through the year.

“We started in a decent place but got slowed down by the issues we had with porpoising etc.

“But it [the upgrade] is clearly bringing performance and when you see how tight the midfield is, it’s clearly going to put us back in that fight.

“We just need to make sure we maximise the full potential for the rest of the year.”

The AlphaTauri’s mechanical package, which includes the 2022-specification Red Bull rear suspension, produces good grip in slow corners and remained unchanged when the upgrade was introduced. The hope was that the downforce gains would augment that good mechanical package and significantly improve performance.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Miami Grand Prix Practice Day Miami, Usa

The car has been at its most competitive on the street circuits – Miami, Monaco and Baku. That it managed just one points finish in those three races reflects the bad luck of the team.

In Miami, Gasly pulled a brilliant qualifying lap out of the bag, one six-tenths of a second faster than anything else he had produced, to take seventh on the grid. He was ninth when Fernando Alonso clattered into him. That incident, which earned Alonso a five-second penalty, soon led to Gasly’s retirement, while team-mate Yuki Tsunoda struggled with the tyres and finished 13th.

Gasly had the pace to be on the third row in Monaco but couldn’t get to the line in time to start a lap after the red flag caused by Tsunoda in Q1. He drove a strong race from 17th on the grid to 11th, while Tsunoda showed signs of good pace but finished 17th.

Even in Azerbaijan, where Gasly finished a superb fifth, a DRS problem forced Tsunoda to pit from sixth place and denied AlphaTauri a bigger points haul. A return of just 10 points from those three weekends is far short of what AlphaTauri should have achieved.

Since Azerbaijan, AlphaTauri hasn’t scored a point. Only once in the last five races has one of its cars reached Q3, with Tsunoda qualifying eighth at Paul Ricard but having his race ruined by being hit by Esteban Ocon’s Alpine on the first lap.

On other circuits, there have been some solid results, with Gasly taking eighth place in Saudi Arabia and ninth in Australia. Tsunoda was eighth in Bahrain, seventh at Imola and 10th in Spain, but since Baku the team has drawn a blank.

After the promising start on Friday in France on the first day running the major aerodynamic upgrade package, Gasly struggled with understeer – always time-sapping for him – in qualifying and finished 12th in the race. Tsunoda who opted for a slightly different set-up, at least showed promise in qualifying before his Ocon-induced first-lap disaster.

In Hungary, the team believed that it had the pace for Q2, although the fact both drivers opted for three Q1 runs showed how tight it was. Gasly did set a laptime good enough for Q2, but it was deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 5, while Tsunoda also struggled and fell in Q1.

Gasly drove a strong race to 12th with Tsunoda finishing 19th after struggling badly for grip, leading to technical director Jody Egginton saying the team would “conduct an investigation” into the struggles given nothing initially appeared awry with the car.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Race Day Budapest, Hungary

Gasly described his Hungarian GP as “positive” with the team learning “a lot of interesting things” about the upgraded car. The hope is that this will translate into consistently stronger form in the second half of the season – potentially enough to challenge Haas for seventh in the championship (just seven points) and perhaps even close on sixth-placed Alfa Romeo, which is 24 points clear of AlphaTauri right now but has drawn a blank in the last four races.

The France upgrade is effective enough now the team has two weekends’ worth of data to understand it to deliver on those hopes. The upgrade was focused on floor performance, which is logical given that is where significant downforce is generated, and theoretically improves the car’s grip across a wide range of conditions.

“The update is mainly around the floor,” said head of vehicle performance Guillaume Dezoteux in France.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship French Grand Prix Practice Day Paul Ricard, France

“[It] starts from the inlet fence geometry, front edge geometry and the diffuser geometry and the bodywork around it. The floor structure underneath the car is completely different and the aim is producing downforce in most of the attitudes the car is taking around the lap.

“In that respect this update is delivering on expectations, so it’s an overall gain of load in most of the conditions: low speed, medium speed corners, high roll, low roll.”

It’s clear we’ve yet to see the best of the AlphaTauri package, and with the team planning to bring further updates later in the season there should be more performance to come. But it has been a difficult campaign for a team that has made steady improvements in recent years.

However, 2022 with the new regulations was always going to be a tough challenge give it is still very much Red Bull’s second team. Having been closely matched with Ferrari and McLaren last year when judged by overall performance, perhaps it was inevitable the team would slip back a little this year.

But Gasly, who has been with the team since late 2017 – save for half-a-season away with Red Bull in the first half of ’19 – remains confident AlphaTauri has the people and facilities needed to perform at a high level.

He also hinted at cost-cap constraints potentially having made things more difficult for the team this year, but hopes the August break will allow it to take a step back and set the right direction for the second half of the year.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship French Grand Prix Practice Day Paul Ricard, France

Asked by The Race if AlphaTauri’s 2022 struggle reflects its weakness compared to F1’s largest squads, Gasly replied: “Yes, compared to big teams like Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull.

“We know what they’ve built over the last 10 years: facilities, people, resources, they’re more efficient.

“But at the same time, we have very, very good people and also the right tools to be competitive.

“I don’t fully have the answer on why we seem to struggle more than other teams in the midfield, because I don’t think we are missing something in the core of the team.

“So, that’s why I think it needs a bit of a step back and look at the whole situation, the bigger picture, what we are doing aero-wise, which direction we took, how we decided to use the budget cap because I know since the start of the year we’re already quite on the edge.

“Is that the main reason? I don’t fully know, but we’ll keep pushing and hopefully find some more, bigger development items over the next few weeks.”

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