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Why AlphaTauri changed tack on being an F1 rookie training ground

AlphaTauri Formula 1 team CEO Peter Bayer has said the Faenza outfit can no longer focus on preparing rookies as it relaunches under a new name in 2024.

Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri

The team has retained Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda for this season, leaving Liam Lawson, who contested five races last year, on the sidelines.

The fresh identity, incoming major US-based sponsors and an extra push from owner Red Bull has obliged AlphaTauri to focus on getting the best possible results, rather than serve primarily as a training ground for a potential recruit to its sister team, which was usually the case in the past.

The change also coincides with former boss Franz Tost handing the reins to the management pairing of Bayer and new team principal Laurent Mekies.

“The shareholders, when they were resharpening things, they also said, 'we want you to be competitive',” said Bayer. “Franz always says, and honestly in the meantime I agree 100%, that a young driver needs three years to be sort of ready for F1.

"With all the complexity the sport is currently requiring, and the amount of information they have to digest and process and then feed back to us, so that we again understand as a team what to do, how to change the settings and so on, and to be competitive, simply they need a lot of time.”

Peter Bayer, CEO of Scuderia AlphaTauri

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Peter Bayer, CEO of Scuderia AlphaTauri

Bayer suggested that the amount of extra radio traffic he heard when Lawson took over from the injured Ricciardo last year was a good indication of the help that rookies can require.

“I understood that the moment we put a young driver into the car,” he said. “Because what's happening is it's actually a change of flow of information, whilst with an experienced driver like Daniel it's him feeding the engineer, who is feeding the operations room, who are then again coming back with stuff.

“With a young driver it's coming from the ops room to the engineers to the pitwall to the driver. ‘Constantly watch out in that corner. Now make sure you get the toggles right’, or ‘brake later, brake earlier, watch the steering, watch your rear, watch engine braking. Oh, by the way, there's someone coming from behind.’

“Honestly, it's like in a theatre, the guy's like bu-bu-bu-bu-bub all the time. While with Daniel it's quiet. And once a lap, he will come back and say, ‘guys, an issue with the rear, can you have a look?’ ’Oh, yeah, we see actually overheating, we can do something on the differential.’ And it's fixed.

“Or he will come back after three, four laps and say, ‘have you thought about changing the strategy? Because I'm stuck here in a DRS train, and rather than waiting, why don't you...?’ ‘Yeah, good idea!’

“You feel the difference. And then obviously the work we do with him in the simulator, vehicle performance, that whole area is a different ballgame.

“So one experienced driver who takes under his wings a young one. And even that young one needs to be prepared.”

Yuki Tsunoda, Scuderia AlphaTauri Daniel Ricciardo, Scuderia AlphaTauri

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Yuki Tsunoda, Scuderia AlphaTauri and Daniel Ricciardo, Scuderia AlphaTauri

Bayer has made it clear that henceforth the team will follow the example of rivals and do more private running with young drivers in a two-year-old car, which is not limited by the rules.

The 2022 cars, the first of the current ground effects regulations, can now be used for such testing.

“That's another new area for us next year,” he said. “We want to take some of the money we're making currently to make sure we can prepare the young drivers in the best possible way.

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“And I think Oscar Piastri is the best example. He ran I don't know how many hundreds or thousands of miles [with Alpine], but he came in and he understood the car. He understood the dynamics, he understood the switches, and it makes such a big difference, and so it connects you fully.

“And we have a big programme actually for Liam and Isack [Hadjar] and potentially [Ayumu] Iwasa, and we want to make sure that we run them as much as possible also. It's interesting that the previous car is a '22 car, so it's finally a relevant car.”

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