Alex Pennington adds his third instalment to the F1 2022 preview series, this time focusing on the hopes of midfield teams Alpine and Alpha Tauri.
Moving further up the midfield for the third part of our F1 2022 preview series, this time we’re taking a look at Alpha Tauri and Alpine. The two teams find themselves in very different situations heading into F1’s next era, and both need some closer analysis.
Red Bull’s junior team have found themselves having one of their best seasons to date this year, especially in the hands of Pierre Gasly. Some unexpected pace has seen the outfit outqualify, and occasionally outrace, the likes of McLaren and Ferrari right at the front of the midfield pack.
It’s been a promising season and the team certainly has some momentum behind it going into 2022. Its (official) status as Red Bull’s ‘sister’ team also means it will never struggle for financial resources, unlike some other midfield rivals, and it also has a useful technology partnership with its big sister. This should, theoretically, put it in a good place for next season.
This same partnership could actually turn out to be a thorn in Alpha Tauri’s side. It’s difficult to see them ever being allowed to outpace Red Bull, through a variety of means. Red Bull, as of next year, will be controlling the production and development of its own engines, now free of their Honda badges, and of course is the only one of the two teams with a wind tunnel. Further, it is unlikely that Alpha Tauri would be able to poach big names in aerodynamics or engineering from F1’s title challengers; everybody knows, after all, that Alpha Tauri is not the team to work for if you want to aim for a championship. All this leaves the team in a bit of an odd space between pushing as hard as they can in the midfield, and never being given absolute free rein financially and developmentally to achieve their potential.
This potential is hardly trifling, either. Pierre Gasly has undoubtedly been one of this year’s top performers, often putting drivers in quicker cars to shame, and vastly outshining his teammate. His best finishes of the year include a podium in Azerbaijan, and two P4 finishes in Zandvoort and Mexico. He has qualified in P6 or higher on 13 occasions so far this year, and his consistency has been massively impressive. On his current form, this is a man who could challenge for a title in the right car. Of course, this has led to much speculation and questioning over potential moves to a better team for his future career prospects.
On the other side of the garage, Yuki Tsunoda has been less impressive, taking just six points finishes (at the time of writing) in 2021. His inconsistency compared to his teammate has arguably damaged the team’s fight for 5th with Alpine considerably, and although there have been improvements in the second half of the year, he has quite some way to go to compete with Gasly.
So, in Alpha Tauri we have an accomplished midfield outfit with a good driver line-up, albeit one of whom needs to be more consistent, but with a strange position in relation to its development and inter-team ties. In the face of competitors like Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and Williams, I see their P5 fight this year being a bit of a high point for the team, before settling back to a more usual battle in the lower midfield next year.
Alpine is a team in a slightly odd position within F1. On the one hand they have massive backing from the Renault Group, and a solid driver line-up in two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso and increasingly consistent and accomplished teammate Esteban Ocon. On the other, they have consistently struggled to convert all this into results, and to truly fight in the upper midfield, or break out of it.
This year, the team has possibly been one of the most inconsistent outfits on the grid in terms of pace and results. In Qatar they appeared to be in the mix to be the third-fastest car on track (with Alonso taking a spectacular podium) while in Mexico he was knocked out in Q1. In the three races to Mexico, the team scored three points, compared to Alpha Tauri’s 22. It has been an odd, unpredictable season for them.
The trouble is that these struggles are actually quite inexplicable. As mentioned above the team has massive financial assets, a good line-up, and a lot of experience operating in the sport. With this kind of setup, it’s difficult to know what to say about the team. Undoubtedly some of their struggles have been due to what is generally accepted to be the worst engine on the grid, but according to Alonso the problems have often been aerodynamic this year, with the car only responding well to a specific corner type.
If the team has something to be optimistic about, it’s that it has maximised results this year when the car has been on the pace. The massive points haul from their 1-4 finish in Budapest, as well as Alonso’s Qatar podium, have been instrumental in carrying them towards their possible P5 in the championship. Even after his P17 qualifying in Mexico, Alonso finished P9. Looking ahead to next year, they seem to be running an efficient operation that knows how to strategise and has two drivers that know how to race wheel-to-wheel.
This leaves them needing to extract consistent, outright pace from their package. Of course, 2022 is the best opportunity for this kind of reset, and apparently they will be arriving next year with a significantly reworked engine which they hope will help to reduce or eliminate their deficit in this area too.
The problem is that heading into next year, there are teams with better momentum behind them, and teams starting from stronger positions than Alpine are. I can see them fighting in the upper midfield again, and possibly looking to build some momentum in the medium-term from there, but for next year, I expect Alpine to stay put around P5 or P6 in the standings.
In next week’s article we’ll be getting into the sport’s heavy hitters, and discussing what McLaren and Ferrari’s recent upward trajectories could mean for their hopes in 2022.