F1 2024’s biggest dark horse? One team could shake up F1 pecking order

Thomas Maher
Liam Lawson, driving for AlphaTauri, in the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix.

Will the newly renamed VCARB team rise from the ashes of AlphaTauri to shock the F1 grid in 2024?

Having spent most of 2023 in the doldrums near the back of the field, the prospects for Red Bull’s second team are considerably better for 2024.

AlphaTauri is no more. Following four years of mediocrity interspersed with incredible highs like Pierre Gasly’s Monza win, Red Bull has opted for revolution with their second team.

The Faenza squad will race under the name ‘Visa Cash App RB F1 Team’ in 2024, with the company itself registered as Racing Bulls (but the RB doesn’t stand for this name, got it?), and the ongoing revolution makes the colloquially-named VCARB team the most exciting squad to watch heading into the new season.

What makes VCARB such an exciting prospect for 2024?

On a grid that has remained bizarrely static between 2023 and ’24, there’s little reason to believe that the pecking order will be shaken up too much – the same drivers are racing for the same teams with the same ruleset.

But that doesn’t mean changes can’t happen and, alongside some other teams setting off on different design philosophies after admitting defeat with their previous attempts, VCARB is doing the same – by shadowing the efforts of Red Bull Racing as closely as the rules will allow.

It’s perhaps indicative of how much fear some of the other teams have in the prospects for the VCARB team this year that so much is being made of their increased collaboration with Red Bull for 2024.

Both Red Bull teams have had the option, for years, to work more closely together than they have done – the only difference is that, for 2024, the decision has been made at the Red Bull board level to force the former AlphaTauri squad to align themselves to the full extent the rules allow.

One merely needs to point to the respective performance levels of the two teams, particularly in recent years, to see that the Faenza-based squad has gleaned little of the advantages in performance that the other teams now fear. But that fear is starting to kick in, simply because that collaboration is intensifying.

An example of why there may be some fear became evident after the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix.

After spending the entirety of 2023 up to that point struggling for any sort of pace or consistency, the introduction of floor upgrades and a rear suspension setup from Red Bull’s RB19 design resulted in points being scored in five of the last eight races.

“The initial decision to go our own way with those critical parts simply was an error, and the people [who made the decision] back then are not with us anymore,” Bayer told Motorsport.com at the time.

“I guess engineers always have plenty of arguments why you should do certain things, but I think everybody in the paddock understood now that with this new regulation change and the new downforce pattern, which is so reliant on the floor, the suspension is the next most important thing.

“You’ve got the floor and then you’ve got the suspension. If those two don’t work together, you might as well not go out.”

For 2024, that synergy between the two Red Bull teams will be maximised to the full extent of the rules. While AlphaTauri, under Franz Tost, did their best to remain an independent constructor and do things completely their own way, it was evident in 2023 that this philosophy had failed to work.

“With Red Bull growing impatient and the costs of going racing similar to that of the dominant Red Bull Racing up front, something had to give.

Expect the 2024 VCARB car to have a far greater similarity to the Red Bull, then. According to reports in Italian media, the new car will take inspiration from the Red Bull’s design philosophy, including front-end suspension componentry.

While maximising what’s possible from taking what’s allowed from RB19, it’s important to emphasise that Red Bull and their sister team are only utilising designs and intellectual property that are permitted to be shared between teams.

Here’s the full rundown on what is and isn’t allowed under the regulations – the same regulations that govern what’s shared between, say, Ferrari and Haas.

To that end, VCARB must continue to design and build their own listed components, while also using the same standard supply and open-source components that every team has access to.

The areas of transferable knowledge – referring to parts such as gearboxes and suspensions – must also be priced under a “fair value” system that the Financial Regulations pay close attention to. This prevents Red Bull from selling components or IP to their sister team for prices below what they could any other customer.

It’s also important to note that, while McLaren has made a huge fuss about their unhappiness about the closer alignment between Red Bull and VCARB, Mercedes has little issue with it.

Given the recent histories between the teams, one might expect Mercedes to make life as difficult as possible for a second Red Bull team that threatens to rise up the grid – but their own technical director doesn’t have a problem.

“I’m not entirely sure what the nature of the relationships between those two teams is, but I am clear on what the rules are,” Allison said, as quoted by Motorsport.com.

“And it is that other than the very limited part of the car where you are permitted to supply parts, and therefore a certain amount of technical data alongside those parts, in every other respect the rules are very tight about not passing on anything that could be regarded as intellectual property from one team to another.

“The way that rule is written is very broad and very powerful, and it pretty much makes any communication not permitted.

“If two teams have a strong relationship with each other, it can only really be a strong commercial relationship.

“It cannot be a strong technical or a strong sporting relationship because the rules forbid that.

“In the past, it was more open, and the relationship that Mercedes enjoyed with the team that is now Aston Martin, at the time that was a relationship that permitted much greater freedom than it does today.”

A new management and technical structure for VCARB

It’s very much a case of out with the old and in with the new for the former AlphaTauri team. Having decided against continuing to try to promote their clothing brand through their second team, Red Bull took the opportunity to relaunch the whole outfit to coincide with the retirement of Franz Tost.

The Austrian, put in the unique position of being an F1 team boss without having complete autonomy over his team, long made it clear he had no interest in being on the grid once he turned 70 years old. With less than two years to go until that milestone, Tost opted for retirement and to hand over the reins to a new leadership team.

For 2024 then, Peter Bayer becomes the CEO of the newly renamed team. Formerly the secretary general with the FIA, and a key proponent behind the introduction of the F1 budget cap, Bayer brings a completely fresh perspective to Red Bull – perhaps the fresh eye the team needed after nearly 20 years under a weary Tost.

With Bayer heading up the commercial side of the business, the sporting side will be overseen by Laurent Mekies. The French engineer has a long history with Faenza, having worked as a chief engineer with Toro Rosso between 2005 and 2014 before Mekies departed to join the FIA. Over the past five years, Mekies has been the sporting director and became deputy team principal of the Scuderia.

Two formidable men then, taking on the leadership roles. But managers don’t make a car go faster – they only oversee the technicals. But, not to worry, because Red Bull has also confirmed some new arrivals to shake up the technical side of things.

Only this week, VCARB appointed Alan Permane as their racing director – a formidable signing, snatched up in the wake of the turmoil of Alpine’s shake-out last summer.

Permane has 34 years of experience with Enstone through their various guises as Benetton, Renault, Lotus, and Alpine, and he’ll be reporting straight to Mekies.

Tim Goss, who only recently departed the FIA where he served as the governing body’s single-seater technical director, will also begin work for VCARB – albeit in October after serving a period of gardening leave. He takes up the role of chief technical officer, with his deputy being Guillaume Cattelani – a promotion from within Red Bull Technology.

Permane and Goss are huge signings with vast experience. A former race engineer to Mika Hakkinen, Goss worked alongside Adrian Newey on the dominant McLaren designs of the late 1990s as well as on the competitive-if-not-quite-dominant McLarens of the early to mid-2000s.

He remained with McLaren in senior roles, including technical director, all the way until 2018. However, with McLaren falling off a cliff in performance over the 2015-2018 period, Goss fell on his sword before joining the FIA.

While it can take some time for new personnel to make a difference within a new team, such sweeping changes at both managerial and technical levels mean a step forward could come sooner, rather than later, particularly if the weaknesses of the AT04 are addressed.

Taking what’s possible from RB19 – the most dominant car ever in F1 – and closer alignment with what should be a very competitive RB20… there’s little reason to doubt that the VCARB car should be a much more interesting prospect this season.

It’ll be particularly interesting to see how the political games will play out this year as a result.

After all, no one was too worried about the Red Bull/AlphaTauri collaboration due to the fact the two Red Bull-owned teams effectively bookended the field. While McLaren is the loudest protestor for now, might more voices be raised if VCARB suddenly slots in close to the front?

If this happens, expect the teams to seek significant rule changes on what is and isn’t allowed for future technical partnerships and sharing…

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