AlphaTauri found themselves frustrated and far behind in 2022 as questions about drivers and the car loomed large.
107. 142. 35.
Rarely do the numbers tell the full story but in AlphaTauri’s case, they certainly paint a picture.
Following their rebrand in 2020, the team had been on the rise. Pierre Gasly secured a win in their debut season while in 2021, the Frenchman again stood on the podium as the Italian outfit secured 142 points, the best result in both theirs and Toro Rosso’s history and a 35-point improvement on the previous campaign.
Expectation then going into 2022 was high. Gasly had established himself as a competent driver if not one at the upper echelon of the sport while Yuki Tsunoda had graduated through his rookie season, finishing 2021 with a career best P4 in Abu Dhabi.
Even their early form going into 2022 suggested the trend would continue upwards. Gasly may have retired in Bahrain, a fate both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez also suffered as the Red Bull power unit worked through some teething problems, but Tsunoda earned a P8.
The points scoring continued until Imola with AlphaTauri seventh and in the mix alongside Alfa Romeo, Alpine and Haas but soon this form began to slip away.
Gasly suffered a suspension problem in Miami while Tsunoda finished outside of the points. A solitary P5 in Monza was the only points-scoring result in a run of seven races stretching from Monaco to Hungary.
Despite being a sister team to Red Bull, AlphaTauri’s AT03 was proving to be nothing like the RB18. As of April, the drivers began to hint that not all was well with the car’s performance.
Pre-Imola, Gasly pinned his hopes on an update package after admitting McLaren and Alpine had “made a big step forward.” In May, Tsunoda complained that the AlphaTauri car was still lacking.
July came and Gasly admitted the need for more upgrades but soon the team were facing a choice of whether to persevere with the AT03 or switch focus to the 2023 car, the logical choice was the latter.
The Frenchman insisted in August that the team had not thrown in the towel following the summer break but eight points in the final 14 races and one in the last five suggests something different.
And all the while this was going on, there was speculation as to who would be their driver next season. Sebastian Vettel’s surprise retirement announcement kicked off a game of musical chairs that left Alpine searching for someone to fill the spot which Fernando Alonso had departed and Oscar Piastri had rejected.
Gasly, with his experience at a top side and relative youth, emerged as the frontrunner even after the former Renault man Daniel Ricciardo was placed on the market but Red Bull would not sanction his departure until they had found a replacement.
A move for Colton Herta was rebuked by the FIA before a dream debut for Nyck de Vries placed him on F1 and AlphaTauri’s radar. Soon the deal was done, allowing Gasly to make the move to Alpine and join fellow Frenchman Esteban Ocon but from the time of Vettel’s announcement to Gasly’s signing was 72 days, an awfully long period for a driver to have his head turned.
It is no surprise to see Gasly’s form reflect this. From Vettel’s announcement onwards, he finished in the points on just three occasions and never higher than eighth. His relationship with the team also seemed to fray, the 26-year-old angrily shouting at his engineer following a surprise Q1 exit during the Japanese Grand Prix and the same day his move to Alpine was confirmed.
Only Williams scored fewer points than AlphaTauri and as the teams head into the winter break, the Faenza-based constructor heads into the unknown.
A new driver coupled with one who still on occasion produces some early career mistakes means it is hard to tell how competitive they will be in 2023. The loss of Gasly is the loss of a talented driver but also a team leader with Tsunoda now becoming the senior member having started 42 races to De Vries’ one.
AlphaTauri will hope 2022 will be remembered as a bump in the road in their otherwise upward trajectory but they will want early results to prove the troubles of the AT03 have been put firmly in the rear view mirror.