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At the bottom of the constructors’ standings, perhaps surprisingly, we find Alpha Tauri. The Italian team may have finished ninth last season, but this season’s three points are definitely a disappointment.
Contrasting fortunes for the two cars
For Alpha Tauri, the season has very much been characterised by the difference in pace between the team’s two cars in the first ten races, when the seat was occupied by Nyck de Vries. The Dutchman replaced Pierre Gasly at the start of the year and prepared for his first full Formula 1 season, at the age of 28.
Tsunoda’s great performances
For Yuki Tsunoda, this was his first opportunity to prove himself as the leader of the team. While his teammate languished in the back, the Japanese driver seemed to get the most out of his races, on a car that was not up to speed. For the first seven races of the season, Tsunoda was on it.
He opened the season with two finishes in tenth and another three in eleventh, showing some of the consistency he was lacking in his first two seasons. Then, in Monaco, his brakes started malfunctioning while he was running ninth and he dropped to fifteenth. In Spain, he crossed the line in ninth, but was given a controversial penalty after a battle with Zhou Guanyu.
After that hot start, his performances dropped for a few weekends, but he came back to score another point in Belgium, where he drove a fantastic race and even run as high as seventh, but dropped back down to tenth.
De Vries dropped, Ricciardo looking for redemption
Of course, a lot of attention has been focused on the second seat at Alpha Tauri. Following a stand-in performance that turned heads last year at Monza, Nyck de Vries utilised the momentum to earn a seat at the Italian Grand Prix. At the age of 28, the former Formula 2 and Formula E champion had a full-time Formula 1 seat. Or so we thought.
The start of the season was a disappointment, as the Dutchman was nowhere near the pace of his teammate. Things got worse in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where he crashed in both the qualifying session and the race and the pressure was on. Heading to the European races, he needed to make an impact, but he failed to do so.
Ten races into the season, de Vries was sacked and replaced by Daniel Ricciardo. The Aussie was dropped by McLaren in 2022 and was looking for a way back into the sport. With Sergio Perez struggling in Red Bull, Ricciardo had a further goal in mind and took the Alpha Tauri seat.
In his first races back, Ricciardo showed he was an instant upgrade over de Vries, with great performances in Hungary and the Sprint in Belgium. He outqualified Tsunoda in the qualifying and the race in those events, despite scoring no points.
Tsunoda dominating de Vries, but a new challenge now
In their ten races together, Tsunoda was a class above de Vries, as the pair was 8-2 in both the race and qualifying head-to-head, with one of the Dutchman’s victories coming in the Monaco Grand Prix, where the Japanese driver run into brake trouble. Perhaps the most telling stat in terms of de Vries’ underperformance was his average qualifying position, which was only 17, with Tsunoda’s at 14.
As for the new battle at the team, Daniel Ricciardo returned in great form, instantly outqualifying and outracing his new teammate in Hungary. His feat is even more impressive, considering he was hampered by a crash in the first corner, where he was an innocent bystander. In the Sprint at Belgium, Ricciardo started eleventh and ran in eighth for a substantial part of the race, before dropping to tenth. In the Grand Prix, Tsunoda got his blood back though.
All eyes on the drivers
With Alpha Tauri’s limited point scoring opportunities, much of the focus is on the drivers, how they perform and what will end up happening ahead of next season. The end of the season could find the Faenza squad even up to seventh, with Williams and Haas just eight points away.
Will Ricciardo stay?
The most intriguing question to be asked for the rest of the season, is how will Daniel Ricciardo perform for the rest of the year? The answer to that will be crucial to many decisions to be taken for 2024 and beyond.
If he performs to a great level, it could even lead to a promotion to the senior team, in place of Sergio Perez, who has a contract until 2024. It is no secret that Helmut Marko and the Red Bull management are capable of taking bold decisions though, so if the Mexican keeps underperforming, he could even be replaced ahead of next season.
If Ricciardo’s performances are not up to scratch and the possibility of a seat at Red Bull goes away, Ricciardo could leave the team. Last year, he stated that he was not interested in running with a team at the back, so it is fair to assume that Ricciardo won’t be interested in staying at Alpha Tauri if the Red Bull door closes.
In that scenario, the primary contender for the seat is Liam Lawson. The driver from New Zealand was third in Formula 2 last year and he left for the Super Formula series in Japan, where his performance have been very good so far. Of all the members of the Red Bull Junior Team, it is Lawson who is a cut above the rest and his name was mentioned among the possible replacements for Nyck de Vries.
More changes at Alpha Tauri
A new era will being at the team from Faenza next season, as Franz Tost will step down at the end of the season, after seventeen years at the helm. He will be replaced by ex-Ferrari sporting director, Laurent Mekies. Peter Bayer, a former FIA executive will also join the team. Another big change concerns the name of the team, although the new one is yet to be announced.
Finally, Helmut Marko has said that the way the team operates is also about to change, as it will share as much of the design as possible with Red Bull, in an effort to improve the performance of the team.
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