Q&As : AlphaTauri wants to challenge at the front of the midfield in 2021
Gasly hopes to build on the last two years
Franz Tost, team principal
How was the first year of collaboration with AlphaTauri?
Franz Tost: “We have a fantastic relationship with AlphaTauri and we cooperate very closely. Our philosophies are quite similar, namely to strive for functionality and innovation. At Scuderia AlphaTauri we pay a lot of attention to the development of the car, always aiming for high technology and innovation. This means constantly researching new ways to improve, something AlphaTauri also does with their products. Our way of thinking is very similar, which makes our teamwork really easy.”
The first year as Scuderia AlphaTauri has been a good one: highest number of points ever, a record of 10 races in a row in the points and we have scored in 15 out of the 17 races last season. Even if the team was aiming for a higher final position in the Constructors Championship, are you satisfied and ready for more?
FT: “We had a reasonably good season in our first year as Scuderia AlphaTauri and we improved in many aspects. The aerodynamic side has made good steps in the right direction but also the design office enhanced all procedures to smoothen the workflow and achieve targets better and quicker. On the operational side, we have again made a big step forward and had very fast pitstops, which helped us to achieve quite good results throughout the year. Thanks to all this work we could achieve the highlight of our season in Monza, with Pierre Gasly’s maiden victory. Nevertheless, I can’t forget that we retired four times, three of them due to reliability issues and once because of an accident Pierre was involved in, which means we missed four opportunities to score points. We definitely have to avoid finding ourselves in certain situations, so there is still some work to do ahead of us but the team is focussing on this to prepare in the best possible way for the new season. I hope that the new car will be as good as we expect it to be, because if our drivers get a competitive car I think we can have an even better season this year.”
Talking about drivers, this year you will have an experienced one in Pierre Gasly, who won a race and knows the team’s dynamics very well, and a complete rookie in Yuki Tsunoda, who made it to F1 after only one year in F2, who’s got a lot to learn. Why has it been decided to go for this line-up?
FT: “For this season we are running an interesting driver pairing. We have an experienced driver and a rookie. I reckon Pierre is one of the strongest drivers in F1 nowadays. Pierre’s good technical understanding allows him to get the best out of the car. Pierre has been with the team for some time now, so he is familiar with all procedures and with our way of working, he will be a good leader, helping Yuki in his development. He knows how to win a race - as he proved last year in Monza - and if we provide him with a competitive car, I expect him to be very successful this season. Then, we have Yuki, who finished third in the F2 Championship and watching his races last year in F2 I must say he did a fantastic job, winning races and carrying out many impressive overtaking manoeuvres. Yuki has already completed some tests with us in an F1 car and I’m convinced that he will have a successful start in his F1 career, due to his natural speed and his talent.”
“The decision to go for Pierre and Yuki in 2021 was taken because Scuderia AlphaTauri’s philosophy is still to give talented young drivers from the Red Bull Junior Programme the opportunity to step up to F1 and to educate them – this is why Yuki now gets his chance. With Pierre on Yuki’s side we have an experienced driver, who can help our Japanese rookie to develop faster, but at the same time we can aim for good results. I think this pair is the best possible scenario to achieve both our targets and I’m also confident this will be a successful one.”
Why Yuki and how can he benefit from having Pierre as a team-mate?
FT: “Pierre is a very high skilled driver and he now also has the necessary experience to be a leader in the team and for Yuki. Every driver compares themselves with their teammate so the better the latter is, the more you are pushed to improve yourself. Yuki can learn a lot from Pierre in all aspects, for example comparing the lap times, the set-up of the car, the driving lines - this is all very important, especially on those tracks that are new to Yuki. If you have a strong and experienced teammate you can compare many different parameters, which help to improve your own performance.”
“When he was driving in the Japanese F4 Championship he was selected by Honda, who supported him. In 2019 he also became a Red Bull Junior driver. He moved to Europe to compete in the F3 Championship and in 2020 he was running in the F2 series. We expect his learning curve to be quite steep, so he should be able to achieve a good performance quite quickly. Of course, he will have some crashes, that’s part of the development programme, but what is very extraordinary on his side is the car control, his strength on the braking and his speed in fast corners. If he continues his learning process, like he did at the tests in Imola and Abu Dhabi last year, I’m sure we will see some fantastic races.”
This is going to be Honda’s last year in F1. Can you please tell us about their development so far and your expectations for this year?
FT: “It’s a shame that Honda stops at the end of this year because the engineers in Sakura did a fantastic job over the past years and currently the Honda Power Unit has reached a really high level of competitiveness, while also being reliable. This year we get a further development of Honda’s PU and I expect that this will also improve the performance of both Scuderia AlphaTauri and Red Bull Racing.”
It has now been announced that Red Bull Powertrains Limited will take over the Power Unit technology from Honda at the beginning of 2022. What does this mean for Scuderia AlphaTauri moving forward?
FT: “Honda has invested tirelessly and intensively in hybrid technology to achieve a highly competitive Power Unit, our relationship has always been both very efficient and enjoyable, and that’s why their decision to pull out at the end of 2021 was quite disappointing for the team. Today, we are very pleased to hear that this cooperation will not end, as from the beginning of 2022 we’ll continue using Honda Power Unit technology through the new born Red Bull Powertrains Limited. I would like to thank the FIA and Formula 1 Management, together with all the teams, for having unanimously agreed on the engine freeze from the start of next year, which has enabled this agreement to be reached. We believe this is the best solution for the future of both Scuderia AlphaTauri and Red Bull Racing, until the next generation engines are introduced in 2025. It’s also a great incentive to achieve the best possible results in Honda’s last season in the sport.”
Is there anything else you would like to say?
FT: “In 2020 Scuderia AlphaTauri was a midfield team, we were fighting successfully against the other teams like McLaren, Renault and Racing Point but our target for this year is to consistently be at the top of this midfield pack and to improve further. To achieve this, we have to avoid reliability issues and finish all races in the points. This can only happen if we do not make any mistakes, so we have to be 100% concentrated on our job, race after race, on and off the track, because our competitors are hard to fight. We will do our best to provide a good show for all the F1 fans, who I hope to see back at the track filling the grandstands soon, and for our partners, who continue to believe in us: Red Bull, AlphaTauri, Honda, MyWorld, Casio Edifice, Randstad and RDS – to mention a few – deserve this from us.”
Graham Watson, team manager
The 2020 season saw an additional logistical challenge, and that was dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. It seems that the 2021 season will start under similar circumstances. What lessons were learned last year that can be applied to the coming season?
Graham Watson: “In 2020 we learnt a tremendous amount about how to handle all the risks faced during the pandemic and how best to keep our staff safe while traveling around the world - we started the year not knowing what Covid was and now it’s something we live with every day. As a team, we have developed a specific Covid action plan - that we continue to revise with our ongoing learnings - and we’ll carry this over into the 2021 season. We’ve had several logistical obstacles to overcome, particularly around catering and the garage, as well as how we get to the track, but we now understand how to work round these challenges for the 2021 season. We tried to ensure that the necessary social distance was always maintained by our staff, even if they were in the same bubble. Likewise, we have avoided commercial flights, to ensure that we can maintain social distancing measures whilst travelling.”
“One other lesson we learned, in terms of running a Formula 1 team, is that it takes more than one person to manage the situation, due to the additional volume of work involved. We know all the processes now for 2021 and so one member of staff has been appointed the role of ‘Covid Planner’ to ensure that all protocols are correctly adhered to. Having the support network in place within our company has helped enormously and allowed us to continue racing within a safe environment.”
As team manager, the wellbeing of all team members while travelling and working in a team environment is your worry and your responsibility. What would you say were the main difficulties and what were the effects on the crew from working under these strange conditions?
GW: “The main priority for me as Team Manager is to preserve the health of all team members, this was my focus last year and it will continue to be so this season. In normal times, without Covid, we have lots of people working in small spaces and it can be a challenge to remain socially distanced. This is especially true in the garage, where we have people working on the car, under strict time pressures, so a large part of my job was finding ways to manage this without stopping the team remaining competitive. The reality is that going racing under these conditions becomes more tiring - the additional PPE and restrictions can make the job more difficult, but everyone understands the importance of why these protocols need to be followed.”
17 races last year, 23 this year, despite the pandemic: a great achievement and big satisfaction, right?
GW: “Formula 1 Management and the FIA did an incredible job of getting 17 races organised in such a short amount of time and with so many logistical issues – it really is a testament to the championship and everyone that works within it that we were able to put on such an incredible global show despite the pandemic. Yes, there were challenges - and a condensed calendar was always going to be tiring, especially with triple headers - but racing is what we get out of bed for each day and I’m just happy we managed to complete a full season whilst other sports couldn’t.”
Formula 1 did an excellent job of keeping the virus out of the paddock last year but some cases were and are likely inevitable. How can you prepare for that, for example with the pit stop crew, where each person has a specific role that they have practiced hundreds of times?
GW: “Luckily in 2020 we didn’t have many cases of Covid, however we have put more measures in place should we have some cases this season, including increasing our ability to replace any race critical members of staff. We need to have more support waiting in the wings, therefore, in our pre-season pit stop training we have been using a range of people to give everyone the correct experience, should they need to be called up for the race team. The human aspect of keeping the team running is vital and it is important to keep the team morale high. Covid has changed the landscape of the sport however I believe the championship has coped extremely well with managing the complexities of the pandemic and has continued to bring some great entertainment to the fans at home.”
Jody Egginton, technical director
2021 was meant to be the year of the big technical rule change, but that was delayed by a year. Was this past winter quite different to usual because of that?
Jody Egginton: “With the changes to the aero regulations targeting a reduction in downforce, we have been presented with a number of changes we have got to make to the floor, the diffuser and rear brake ducts and this has required a lot of work to reoptimise around these changes. The work which has been undertaken to develop our car for 2021 goes far beyond compliance with regulation changes and has involved changes to nearly all aero surfaces and also development and repackaging large parts of the car, which are hidden, in order to achieve these changes. We have spent a lot of time working to recover the aero losses as a result of the regulation changes, while also focusing on increasing and improving the cars aerodynamic operating window. This activity will continue into the season, with the split of resource between the 2021 and 2022 projects reviewed and adjusted as required to maximise the potential of both projects.”
Have Covid restrictions impacted anyhow on your internal normal procedures?
JE: “As soon as the full extent of the Covid situation became clear we modified our working practices and methods, it’s a process under constant review - especially as we are working across a facility in Italy & also the UK – however, I believe we have adapted quite well as a team and it’s something we are learning to live with. An increase in remote working has been part of strategy but it’s been well implemented and people have reacted well to the challenge this presents - as a team everybody has been working hard to adapt to the situation as it evolves. Another aspect of the changes, due to Covid, has been the fact that we were required to stop activity on what was at the time the 2021 car and have only been able to restart this since January 1st 2021 - as a result we have adapted the resource planning accordingly. Additionally, we have recently transitioned our wind tunnel testing from our Bicester 50% wind tunnel facility to the Red Bull 60% wind tunnel facility, which is a further major project to deal with. However, it was important to make the jump to a 60% model and the team working out of Bicester have managed this transition very well, so far limiting any disruption as much as possible. One key part of developing the 2021 car is deciding how best to split the permitted fixed amount of aero development across the 2021 and 2022 car projects. The rolling development approach we have taken in the past couple of years provides flexibility but you must also be efficient with your aero testing, therefore resource allocation across projects is going to be a big focus in 2021.”
Another change brought about by the regulations, is that the amount of permitted CFD and wind tunnel time varies from team to team according to where you finished in the previous year’s championship. What effect has that had?
JE: “You are subject to this sliding scale of how many aero runs you can complete. Finishing seventh last year means we are at a notional zero point, so that anyone who finished behind us gets more time and those ahead of us get less. We support this system and believe it’s a sensible step in trying to bring the field closer together - it pushes teams to be as efficient as possible with each and every aero run which in turn is pushing us to find ways to extract as much information as we can from each run and develop our methodologies to try and extract even more going forwards.”
AT01 seemed liked a pretty good car, so it must have been a good starting point for this year’s AT02.
JE: “Yes, I really believe the AT01 was the best car to be produced by the team. The STR14 was not a bad car but the AT01 developed very well through the season and its performance was a credit to the hard work of everybody involved in the project. For 2021 major changes to the car require the use of ‘tokens’ and each team is limited to just 2 tokens, as such we have elected to carryover the Safety Cell. We believe the chassis and power unit provides a good baseline, so we are happy to have spent our tokens elsewhere for 2021.”
One important change for this year is that Pirelli is providing a new specification of tyre. What impact has that had on the design of the new car?
JE: “The changes Pirelli have elected to make come from what they learned last year regarding tyre durability. It must not be forgotten that the 2020 tyre was essentially a 2019 tyre and in this period the cars have developed quite a lot, so it’s not unexpected that changes would be made. We have tested with these tyres and we believe we have a good understanding of how they operate compared to the 2020 tyre. The construction is different, and this should allow Pirelli to give more freedom in terms of the minimum tyre pressures we are permitted to run. That’s a good thing, as tyre pressure is always a very sensitive topic.”
The current “customer team” rules are very specific in terms of what you can and cannot do in terms of using components produced by another team. What synergies with Red Bull Technology have you been able to exploit in producing the AT02?
JE: “The use of Red Bull Technologies supplied gearbox, rear suspension and some front suspension components is now in its third year for us but for 2021 we have elected to continue with the same rear suspension & gearbox design as we used in 2020. We’ve elected to use our two tokens for a new nose and also redesigned the outboard front suspension, as a result of this we have elected to update some Red Bull Technologies supplied steering components to 2020 specification, as permitted by the Technical Regulations.”
The change to the aerodynamic regulations is partly aimed at slowing the cars down. How do you think the new cars will perform in terms of lap time compared to their predecessors?
JE: “The headline aero numbers have been affected by the aero change, but we have been working really hard to recover the lost performance and also improve the aero dynamic operating window for the car. How fast will our car be? It’s not something I would want to put an exact number to just yet. Overall, taking everything into account, I would say we will probably see a performance level similar to that seen mid-2020.”
On the topic of the Power Unit, what can we expect from Honda in its final season in F1?
JE: “Effectively, Honda is giving us a new Power Unit for this year and have taken the opportunity to develop the packaging around it. Honda is very determined to push right to the end of 2021 and we are sure the power unit will continue to provide all that is required from it.”
Scuderia AlphaTauri will continue to use Honda Power Units - after their withdrawal from F1 at the end of the season - through the establishment of Red Bull Powertrains Limited– what does this mean for the team?
JE: “We’ve been very happy with the Honda Power Units supplied to us over the last few years and I believe we can continue to race competitively using them, so this announcement is really great news for the team. It’s a huge commitment from Red Bull to make but it will allow both Scuderia AlphaTauri and Red Bull Racing to remain competitive by using a PU that we’re already very comfortable with. As a customer team you often have to make compromises – such as to the chassis – that can inhibit the true performance of a car, so retaining the PU in-house through Red Bull Powertrains Limited allows us to maintain the best possible package.”
In winter, away from the racetrack, the attention focuses more on physical training. How was your preparation for the new season?
Pierre Gasly: “It was really good. After spending some time with my family, especially for Christmas, I went with my coach to Dubai. I did the same last year and it worked really well, I felt really fit, so I adopted the same plan this time. In Dubai there are amazing training facilities and the weather is ideal for some outdoor exercise and I could push myself quite hard. Unfortunately, I tested positive for Covid at the end of January but luckily, I felt good, so I could continue training in my apartment. A slight cough for a couple of days did not stop me, I wasn’t tired at all, so I could go on with my training programme. I didn’t miss anything and I’m ready for the new season.”
You had a great 2020 season, can you do the same or even better this year?
PG: “I put my good results last year down to being more experienced, as it was my third season in F1 and also the first time I had stayed for a second full season with the same team. I’d say it was mainly the continuity from 2019 that paid off, working with the same engineers, having a better understanding of what we are doing and as a team we all succeeded in exploiting the experiences from the previous two years. I’m always hungry for more, so I’m sure we can achieve great things also in 2021.”
You have a new team-mate this year, Yuki Tsunoda. He is a rookie and therefore the team will be relying on you a lot more to lead the team, to lead the development. Is that how you see it?
PG: “Of course, Yuki’s arrival means I will have more responsibility within the team and I’m ready to take on the role of team leader. However, he is a very quick driver and he will help us move the team forward. I know Yuki, he is a competitive guy and showed what he can do in F2, that’s why he was promoted to F1 after just one year. We will work together to achieve that. He lacks experience, so it won’t always be easy for him, but I think he is talented and it will also be up to me and the team to lead the way. His arrival doesn’t really change my approach, which will be the same as last year, when we got the most out of what we had to work with at pretty much all the Grand Prix, apart from one or two. So, we must keep going with the same philosophy, as I really believe last year was the team’s best in terms of the way it worked, the development, the performance and in the way it managed the race weekends. I think that goes for me too and we just have to keep going like this to try and do a little bit better than we did last year.”
The 2020 car was a good one, so is that a further reason to be optimistic for this year, as the basic chassis remains the same?
PG: “The car did seem pretty good. Where we are in the mid-field, all the teams made a lot of progress and the gaps are very small. We finished seventh in the championship, but there were times when we were fighting to be the fourth or fifth best car in the field. We were fighting some very good teams that have big budgets and a lot of experience. Last year, we had a car that allowed us to fight with them and I got through to Q3 quite often. This year I hope we can make a step up, that will allow us to be nearer the front of the midfield.”
Do you feel you are at the top of your game as a driver, or is there room for improvement?
PG: “I think last year I did a very good job and I was able to drive the way I wanted and I managed to have an excellent relationship with my engineers, we understood what the team needed, what I needed and how to work together and that’s what brought the results. I was really satisfied, but there is still room for improvement, room for fine tuning. What you need over the whole year is to be consistent and to score at every opportunity. We need to see how the car goes in Bahrain and then we’ll know more. But the key will be consistency and not to make any mistakes.”
2021 will be the last year together with Honda. You’ve been working with them for quite a long time now. Tell us your thoughts.
PG: “It was kind of a shock when we heard that Honda will be leaving after 2021. We have a good relationship with them and it’s great working with them. I know they put in a lot of effort every single day they are in the sport. I’ve been working with them even before I came to Formula 1, so we know each other quite well. I think we can achieve great things together, which we have already showed in the past couple of years, with a second place in Brazil in 2019 and a win in Monza in 2020. It feels like it was just the beginning so it’s a shame to see them leaving so soon.”
After one year as a brand ambassador for AlphaTauri how do you think the brand has developed?
PG: “I think it’s great how AlphaTauri as a brand is growing and expanding in other countries even with the pandemic going ahead. I’m proud to be a brand ambassador and love their clothes. Unfortunately, we could only do a few events in 2020, which were amazing, and I hope we can do more of those this year.”
Unfortunately, the pandemic is still with us as we head into the new season. How do you approach another “different” season?
PG: “I followed a very strict and extreme regime, seeing no friends or family members and I plan to do the same for this year and we will see how the situation evolves. I will follow all the rules, whatever they are, being well aware that I have nothing to complain about: I am a Formula 1 driver doing the thing that gives me the most happiness in life and I realise how lucky I am. The sport’s organisers have done all they can to ensure we have the best season possible this year and to once again provide entertainment for the fans. Daily life is tough for a lot of people right now, so to be able to bring them something to smile about on a Sunday makes it worthwhile and is always a pleasure. What motivates me every morning is to do my best on track and to achieve my goals in Formula 1. That’s what I work on every day.”
Did you expect to make the step up to F1 after just one year in F2?
Yuki Tsunoda: “No, not really!! To reach Formula 1 - which was my final goal as a driver - you don’t just have to deliver results, you also need some luck, and this is something you can’t control. So, from my side, I knew I always had to give my best at all times. It was in my hands to stand out and impress the bosses, who can make your dream come true. In every series, you need to develop a strong pace very quickly, so I was committed to doing well right from the start of my career. It was good to show what I could achieve in my inaugural year in F2 and I’m so happy to have graduated to F1 so quickly.”
Do you think F2 prepared you enough for this step to F1?
YT: “For certain aspects, yes, because I’ve managed to experience many of the tracks, and I’ve also learnt a lot about tyre management. F2 gives you a good understanding of working with a racing team at this high level and I’m excited to continue this development at Scuderia AlphaTauri. There’s always more to learn, but F2 was a very useful experience and a good warm-up before starting my next adventure in F1.”
What do you expect will be the biggest differences to F2?
YT: “The speed of the cars, of course, is a huge difference but also the fact that the season is much longer. On a technical side, there are many differences and it’s quite a big step up. There are a lot of complex procedures, which I will need to learn as quickly as possible, and the team is so much larger that there are a lot more engineers to report to. In addition, it will also be necessary for me to remain well trained and strong, both physically and mentally, to cover 23 races with minimal down time - this will also be a big difference from F2.”
You have some experience with Scuderia AlphaTauri already – as you’ve driven the 2018 - STR13 and 2019 - STR14, as well as the 2020 AT01 at the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi – what do you think it’ll be like working with them for a full season?
YT: “It’s a very friendly team and I’m confident I can work well with them. I like their passion and how they prepare for events. It’s been a good relationship from the beginning, so it should only improve as we get to learn more about each other through the season. I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with Scuderia AlphaTauri ahead of the season so I’m already learning a lot from them and continuing to develop strong relationships with the whole team.”
How excited are you for your first season in F1?
YT: “I’m really excited to get started and am particularly looking forward to racing in Suzuka, in front of the Japanese fans. The last time I raced in Suzuka was in Formula 4 - so it will be a big difference - but I’m really excited to now get the opportunity to represent my country in F1. I am also looking forward to visiting many new countries and racing on different tracks. If I had to pick one of the circuits I’m most looking forward to, apart from Japan, it would be Monaco – there is so much history there and it’s a very challenging circuit. The biggest thing for me though, will be lining up on the grid with so many superstars of the sport – it’s an absolute honour to be competing against some of the greatest drivers in the world.”
Why did you chose “22” as your racing number?
YT: “My number when I was racing in karting was 11, but in F1 that’s already taken by Sergio Perez. So, I doubled it to become 22, which I also liked because it was the number of Jenson Button - a driver I respect a lot - when he won the Formula 1 World Championship in 2009. It’s also a number used by Japanese driver Takuma Sato.”
What motivates you to drive faster?
YT: “I just want to beat the other drivers and I also want to be the first Japanese driver to win a race in Formula 1.”
You’ve been supported by Honda for a long time. How important is your relationship with them and what do you expect from them this season?
YT: “Honda have supported me since I was in Formula 4 and have played an incredibly important role in my career. I will never stop saying thank you to them and I will try to show my appreciation to them through my driving, by delivering the best possible results this season. For them it is their last year in F1, which is a real pity, but I think it will be a good year for them with improved engine power. My main goal this season is to do well, for the team, for myself and certainly for Honda.”
What do you think you can learn from your team mate Pierre in your first season in F1?
YT: “Pierre is really fast and already has a win under his belt in F1. The first target for every driver is to beat your team-mate but he will be a hard one to beat. I remember seeing him in Japan when he was racing in Super Formula and I was in Formula 4. He nearly got the title in his first year in Japan which is really difficult, especially for a European driver. He’s an incredible talent and I’m excited to learn everything I can from him this season, as I’ve already seen how integrated he is within the team.”
You will be the youngest driver on the 2021 grid. What are your feelings about that?
YT: “I don’t think it’s worth putting too much emphasis on age – as Max Verstappen was 17 when he started – but I feel it’s an honour to be the first driver on the grid to be born in 2000.”
Who is Yuki Tsunoda away from the race track?
YT: “I’m just a normal 20-year-old boy. I like gaming - when I’m not racing, I’m gaming with my friends in Japan. I like shooting games – such as Apex Legends and Call of Duty - and sometimes when I’m playing them, I imagine shooting at someone I hate…it works well, it boosts me! Also, I like being outdoors doing things like wakeboarding and snowboarding - there is a place in Milton Keynes where you can do indoor snowboarding. I like to do physical things in general. I find that sport and gaming help me to reset my mind and I feel refreshed afterwards. However, I don’t really like racing games as I don’t find them realistic.”
What are your goals for your first season in F1?
YT: “My main goal for this season is to learn quickly and deliver results as soon as possible. I must always do the best I can and then we will see how the season plays out.”
Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda F1 technical director
There are no PU developments allowed during this year, so you have to get it right the first time. Do you think you have managed that?
Toyoharu Tanabe: “Of course this is Honda’s last year in Formula 1 and in order to finish on a high note, everyone in Sakura and Milton Keynes is very determined and we feel we have prepared well for the coming season in conjunction with Scuderia AlphaTauri over the winter so far. We won’t know for sure how good a job we have done until we hit the track, but so far preparation has gone smoothly.”
What results have you seen on the dyno this winter? Are you happy with the figures you are seeing?
TT: “On the dyno the numbers we have seen match what we expected. Let’s see how competitive we can be on track in the actual races.”
There are rumours of major changes made to the PU for this year. What can you say about that?
TT: “It is difficult be specific about which parts have seen the most work, but in order to improve power and reliability, we have made modifications to the ICE, turbine and ERS. This is our third year with Scuderia AlphaTauri and in order to improve as a whole, we have also improved the installation and packaging of the entire PU.”
Is this the PU that you had originally planned to introduce for 2022?
TT: “Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were going to introduce a new PU for this year, however, given all the difficulties and restrictions because of the long F1 shutdown, combined with the European lockdown and delay in parts supply, we had decided to postpone it to 2022. However, taking into account the decision announced in October 2020, that Honda would leave the sport at the end of 2021, we reassessed the situation and changed our plan again to reintroduce it in 2021. It was very tight timing to make this change, but we managed to bring forward the development and preparation programme. At Honda, we felt that we really wanted to use all our technical know-how before leaving the sport.”
There were no PU related penalties last year for Honda. Is there a risk on the reliability front this year if you are pushing hard for more power?
TT: “After Honda returned to F1 in 2015 we endured some very difficult times, but we also learned a lot and our good reliability last year is down to the lessons learnt. We have changed many things on this year’s PU, but our experience in terms of reliability was applied to this. Performance and reliability are always a very subtle balancing act and we hope to maintain that balance this year. We expect to know more once we have run on track, after which we can just make operational changes in terms of how we run the PU.”
Realistically, what level of results with Scuderia AlphaTauri would you consider a success for 2021?
TT: “Last year the mid-field competition was tougher than in previous years and a very small performance gap could make a big difference in the results. It was great that Pierre Gasly was able to win in Monza and overall, we had a great year with Scuderia AlphaTauri. Our rivals are also developing and so this will be another year of close competition, but we are sure that Honda and Scuderia AlphaTauri have progressed over our three years together and we are now truly one team, strong and united. Scuderia AlphaTauri’s support and cooperation played a key role in allowing Honda to become competitive in the hybrid era and we truly appreciate that. It would be great if we can do even better in our final year together.”
You will be able to work with a Japanese driver this year. What do you expect from Tsunoda in his rookie season?
TT: “We are very glad that a long-time Hondasupported driver will make his F1 debut with Scuderia AlphaTauri. He will be the first Japanese driver on the grid since Kamui Kobyashi seven years ago. I expect he may encounter situations and difficulties he has never experienced before. However, he has adapted really quickly in F3 and F2 and progressed well, therefore I believe he will learn quickly and improve race by race in Formula 1. He will be the centre of a lot of attention, especially from Japan, which will possibly be extra pressure for him, but I hope he continues with his aggressive style of racing in F1 as well. Honda will do all it can to support him.”
Do you have any comment on the fact it’s recently been agreed that Scuderia AlphaTauri will continue to use Honda technology for its PU from 2022 onwards, even though Honda is leaving F1?
TT: “I think it is the right thing for Honda to do, considering our relationship with Scuderia AlphaTauri and Red Bull Racing, and how much Honda has benefited from those partnerships. It also reflects the importance of our role and history, as part of the world of Formula 1 over several decades. So, I am glad that Honda has been able to help the two teams and the sport in this way.”