Exclusive Q&A with Peter Bayer: Red Bull’s trust to forge new path for AlphaTauri

Thomas Maher
Monza: Peter Bayer, AlphaTauri CEO, pictured with PlanetF1.com's Thomas Maher.

Monza: Peter Bayer, AlphaTauri CEO, pictured with PlanetF1.com's Thomas Maher.

Peter Bayer was recently appointed as CEO of Red Bull’s second team, with the Austrian tasked with forging a new path for the Faenza-based squad.

It’s all change at Red Bull’s second team for 2024, with the current AlphaTauri set for a new name, new sponsors, and a new team boss as Laurent Mekies joins in place of the retiring Franz Tost.

Added to that is the arrival of new CEO Peter Bayer, the former FIA Secretary General, who spent most of 2022 on gardening leave following his departure from the governing body. Three months after assuming control at AlphaTauri, Bayer sat down with PlanetF1.com’s Thomas Maher for an in-depth chat about his new role, and the direction he hopes to take with Red Bull.

Peter Bayer: Working with Red Bull is a ‘unique opportunity’

PF1: Hi Peter. Let’s revisit this time period from this time last year, and the aftermath of your departure from the FIA. Can you tell us how the initial contact with Red Bull came about?

Peter Bayer: “Soon after I left [the FIA], actually, I had an initial call from Helmut [Marko] asking me what I would do, and I said, ‘Well, for now, I’m in the garden taking care of my flowers’, but he sort of got the ball rolling really. We met then, we spoke to Franz about his feelings and spoke to Christian [Horner] also [about] what he really thinks is the way forward for the two teams.

“They were just friendly discussions, to be honest. Unfortunately, Dietrich Mateschitz (Red Bull owner) got worse and worse and so the discussion sort of fell asleep. In any case, I wasn’t allowed to do anything Formula 1 related so I enjoyed the family, really.

“I got in touch with Audi, and they thought it would be great if I could help them. So I really focused on that. At the same time, I did a bit of work for the IOC – the International Olympic Committee – because I know them well due to my work there [in the past]. That was a very interesting project.

“But I kept in touch with the whole paddock, really. Interestingly, in February, and March last year, I had a couple of teams reaching out, saying ‘What are you doing, what are your plans? Would you be interested in joining us?’

“The complexity of the sport, especially around the cost cap, has surprised a couple of the teams, and, as one of the architects, they thought I could be useful for them, given the network and the knowledge about that.

“This year, in March, I had contact again with the Red Bull family, and then things went quite quickly, actually. With the new management in place, I met Oliver Mintzlaff, the new CEO, and spoke again to Franz, Helmut, Christian, and the owners. Within weeks, it was decided. For me, this is a unique opportunity.”

PF1: What is it about this role that attracted you, to the point of making you decide to give up gardening to get stuck in again?

PB: “Really, I think that the strength of the brand… I don’t know, maybe Red Bull for an Austrian is what Ferrari is to the Italians! It’s something that we’re very, very proud of. So that was one emotional element of the decision.

“But the rationale behind it, for me, was the decision of the owners to keep and transform the team, to keep investing in the team. It’s fascinating when you see them operating, because every decision, even the biggest ones, are two phone calls away. It’s fascinating. I’ve never seen that anywhere, such efficiency, and it’s so straightforward. The combination of those things really… yeah, for me, it was a no-brainer, to be honest.”

PF1: So you’ve been at the helm for three, almost four months now. What can you reveal about the strengths and weaknesses of AlphaTauri?

PB: “We have fantastic facilities in Italy. The facilities are amazing. The people are great. It’s this whole motorsport valley. You have literally everything from engineers who have been trained at great universities, you have all the companies around – it’s a great place to build a car, to be honest. The positioning we had inside the paddock, I think it’s something that I, and the shareholders, believe, and that we have to reposition ourselves.

“With the cost cap, and the technical regulations, you almost can’t be like a sister or brother team – you have to be a Formula 1 team. We need to grow through that process of growing up, going through adolescence, and start walking on our own feet. Obviously not in contradiction with getting support from our family, and I think that’s really what we’re also supposed to achieve. That’s what we want to achieve, we can still exploit the technical collaboration because we haven’t done that in the past.

“It’s well known by now, but, if you think about the importance of the suspension nowadays, and that we’re not using the suspension – which we are allowed to use – it simply was a mistake.

“Also commercially, if you’re looking at the shirts and the brands of Red Bull Racing and the global partners they carry, they’ve been extremely successful, obviously because of the sporting success but also because they have a great team. They have this new facility MK7, which is dedicated to marketing and comms, it is fascinating. We will join forces with them on the commercial side.

“But there’s another area that needs to be improved, which is being an attractive employer. Nowadays, there is real competition, not only for drivers and development but also for top engineers, which is another reason why we want to [invest]. Our Bicester facility is still the old Reynard, Adrian Reynard building. We don’t have space, the lease is running out. It is an old facility. We want to modernise that, and have opportunities for nicer work, and have a different working environment. So there’s a great base, but I think there’s also lots of room for improvements now with the new approach.”

A Hugo Boss-AlphaTauri deal is far from completion.

PF1: Will the commercial side be your main area of focus, and how does Laurent fit in with working alongside you?

PB: “Laurent will definitely focus on all the sporting elements and I will focus on the strategic development of the company, synergies with the group, and commercial.”

PF1: Earlier this summer, we had a chat with Franz Tost about his upcoming retirement, and he said part of his reasoning is that he is wary of not being able to come up with fresh ideas as he turns 70. Is that what AlphaTauri needs, an injection of those fresh ideas?

PB: “Franz, first of all, has done an amazing job and his depth of knowledge and the experience he has is invaluable. But, at the same time, I do believe Formula 1, especially in the last five years, has changed dramatically. If you look at the commercial success of the sport, if you look at the way the storytelling has changed, you need to always remember where you come from, you need the experience.

“But I believe also, yes, that Laurent and myself bring… I don’t think it’s fresh ideas or anything that Franz wouldn’t have had, but I think we come with a different angle, potentially. we have a different network of people around us that will support us. Today, we have sporting, technical, and financial regulations, but then you also have the commercial side as I’ve said before.

“We have the media, you guys, because we want to work together because, ultimately, we need you to tell our story. You’ve got the politics as well, which are playing an important role.

“Franz is a racer, he wants to go racing and he wants to have a fast car, but the other bits, he’s not as keen as Laurent and myself might be. Looking at the development, I once read that Enzo Ferrari basically said, ‘All you need is a fast engine’. Suddenly, people came up with aerodynamics, and, suddenly, people came up with sporting regulations, which made it a lot more complex than it ever was. Now you have financial regulations on top, and politics and business. That’s where, every now and then, yes, you need a bit of a fresh injection.”

PF1: Why is there the need to rebrand AlphaTauri? It’s only been around four years, since Toro Rosso’s renaming. Is the timing of the rebrand coincidental to the sweeping changes being made, or is this a point in time to draw a line in the sand to mark a revolution with the team?

PB: “Coming back to your initial question, why this role is so attractive, that’s what the shareholders told us. They said, ‘Look, guys, we won’t sell it, we’ll keep the team.

“‘But we want to have a fresh start, we want to look at the global direction, strategic direction of the team, commercial success to sporting success. Let’s take a critical look at all the elements.’

“That’s why it’s a unique opportunity. We’re building on experience but, at the same time, the sky’s the limit for innovation and development.”

PF1: Has the relative lack of sporting success as a brand played a part in the desire for the rename?

PB: “AlphaTauri is a clothing brand, which is owned by Red Bull. They’re currently re-evaluating where they want to take the clothing brand, and how they strategically want to position it, which is why that whole discussion came about.”

PF1: There has been plenty of chatter about the possible big-name sponsors that are apparently signing up to be with AlphaTauri next season. Do you want to tease us about who might be coming on board?

PB: “I’d love to, to be honest, but I’m not allowed. It’s all NDA-protected!”

PF1: Part of the revolution next season will obviously be the increased collaboration with Red Bull Racing, in a bid to improve efficiency, with as much design and parts-sharing as is permitted by the regulations. Do you expect the increased collaboration to have an immediate impact in the short-term?

PB: “No, because we have to be, not only by regulation but also our self-definition, we have to be a Formula 1 team.

“Certain things will always happen within our four walls. But it’s really trying to understand how we can over the years – probably five years – come closer to Red Bull Racing.

“But, at the same time, making sure we have this because it’s also a question of equity value. If we were to stop operating in certain areas and say ‘Well, we will just copy and paste what they do’, then we wouldn’t be a Formula 1 team as I think we should be.

“So there are no quick gains. I mean, this year, we’ve seen some amazing changes in the results scheme, when suddenly Aston Martin popped up, and then suddenly McLaren popped up, but I think that’s really down to the fact that they all understood that what Red Bull Racing did in terms of design philosophy is the right one with this new downforce element which everybody is following. We actually have a big upgrade coming for Singapore, which will follow the same philosophy so everybody’s closing in on that and then I think next year will be extremely close.”

PF1: Another topic we discussed with Franz this summer was whether or not he had ever felt frustrated by the fact that, despite being a team boss, he never had complete autonomy over his team. Is that something you see being a source of frustration to you in the medium to long-term?

PB: “I have to be careful what I’m saying here! Honestly, I’ll tell you the way I see it, I think that we will have more autonomy. Simply because that’s how the positioning happened internally.

“Red Bull has been reorganised internally with Oliver Mintzlaff having global responsibility for the investment, sports, and so on projects. We have a very clear positioning within the group, that Laurent and myself will be responsible for running this team.

“Now, there are obviously areas where you have to closely align, for example, when it comes down to drivers, because we will remain the team that is educating and developing young drivers. We obviously want to make sure that the drivers we put, one day, could go to Red Bull Racing. That’s why we need to closely align – Helmut Marko will play an important role in that with his experience.

“But, in all the other areas, we are independent, which is why we want to enlarge the footprint in the UK, and make sure that we have our own design office, and the model shop – all will be revamped.

“There’s lots of investment happening to make sure that we are actually independent. But then, clearly, when there are areas of collaboration and synergies, we’ll work together.”

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PF1: Let’s go back to the time period of when you were Secretary General with the FIA. You were one of the main proponents and architects behind the introduction of the budget cap and the ratification of the Financial Regulations. Three years into the ruleset, how do you gauge their success?

PB: “Oh, to be self-critical! I think they have been extremely important in repositioning the sport. Think back to when we started discussing financial regulations. We had Renault thinking about moving out of Formula 1.

“I remember Cyril Abiteboul (then Renault team boss) called me the day before we decided that the financial regulations would come. In the afternoon, he had a board meeting with Renault, and he put that up on the screen, and they said, ‘OK, if that’s happening, we stay.’

“I remember Finn Rausing (co-owner of Sauber Motorsport) not being happy with all the money that he invested into the sport. Guenther [Steiner] mentioned that Gene [Haas] was considering doing something else with his money. Even I think AlphaTauri, or Toro Rosso back then, there was discussion about whether it made sense to have.

“So I think we have to be careful with the development of the sport, and the direction we’re taking, but I strongly believe the financial regulations have been a huge success in that respect.

“Are they perfect? I think not, because they’re so complicated. The other day, in one of our board meetings and looking at the agenda, I think two-thirds of the topics were somehow related to financial discussions, ‘Can we do this? Yeah, we should. But do we have the money? Can we?  What is the FIA thinking, did we speak to them?’

“It became hugely complex.”

PF1: What do you think of this idea as further refinement? Introduce something like the Aerodynamic Testing sliding scale to allow smaller teams to spend more money, provided they are able to raise the funds?

PB: “I obviously think it’s a great idea! The thing is, with how complex the sport is, and how many brilliant minds have nothing else in mind than how to exploit a regulation, you might come up with a fantastic idea for a regulation.

“Immediately, you will have 1000 people here, 800 there, and 500 there, all trying to figure out how to actually circumvent and exploit this and that’s the tricky bit.

“Ultimately, financial regulations, and accounting is a very exact science at the end of the day. But we started off with a brilliant idea. The teams said ‘Yeah, OK, why not?’

“But then, especially the big ones, said, ‘How can you expect us to come from $400-500 million annual spend, down to 175?'(as the initial number)

“We would argue for two years whether a hospitality unit is a marketing expense, whether people should be in, should be out, whether travel should be in, should be out.

“Travel is a good example. People will say, ‘Well, if a team has enough money to pay more people flying in business class, those people will arrive more relaxed, therefore will be performing better.’

“That went on for two years on every single detail. Everything. The idea was great. I think the success of it justifies the introduction. In the details, I adore Federico (Lodi, FIA Financial Regulations Director) and his team for the work they do. If you look at the amount of work they need to process and the amount of documents and stuff, which I still remember, it’s huge.

PF1: Just from talking to you here, it’s really obvious just how passionate you are about this area!

PB: “Yes. Honestly, look, speak to any CEO or team principal here. Everybody will know the details about the cost cap. It’s as important today as aerodynamic development or anything.”

AlphaTauri driver Liam Lawson in the paddock at Zandvoort. Netherlands, August 2023.

PF1: Let’s move on to talking about the drivers and what’s coming up for AlphaTauri on that front. Liam Lawson is currently in instead of the injured Daniel Ricciardo, how do you think he’s getting on?

PB: “Liam has been amazing, honestly.

“What he did is, I think… I have a huge amount of respect for him and his achievements here in the paddock. Zandvoort was probably the worst possible baptism that you can possibly have, you know?

“I mean, raining, the track in Zandvoort was wet then dry, right? It was everything that you possibly would not wish for. Still, he did a very good job.

“Honestly, what I really like about Liam is how professionally he’s approaching the task and he’s very calm in the car. He will get feedback from the engineers and, lap after lap, he will improve. It’s very impressive, really.”

PF1: Given you mentioned junior drivers, and the remit AlphaTauri have in helping to develop those drivers for possible progression to Red Bull, does having Daniel Ricciardo in the ranks as an experienced older driver not fly completely in the face of that remit?

PB: “My belief is that… obviously, we cannot only develop young drivers – we also have to be competitive.

“I think, to be competitive nowadays, you need… in order to fulfil both cars, you need to have one experienced driver and one young one. That’s really what I’m trying to achieve, you know, to have an experienced one and a young one.

“Because then the young one will learn more from the experienced one, the experienced one will help us and, for example, Daniel helped us tremendously on setting up the car.

“So whilst we give feedback to a young driver, the experienced one gives us feedback, and I’m convinced you need to have those two.”

PF1: You’ve been so generous with your time, Peter, which we really appreciate. One final one from us: Presumably, championship success isn’t really the aim for AlphaTauri given the existence of Red Bull Racing. So what defines success for AlphaTauri?

PB: “I think realistically, with the budget and the current positioning – also with taking into consideration that we will and want to develop a young driver – I think that P5 would be a huge success over the years.”

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