AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost said it was “not a difficult question” to answer when asked to name the best drivers to have worked under him in Formula 1.
Just like the name of Red Bull principal Christian Horner is synonymous with the team these days, having held that role since day one, the same is also true for Tost, who has been the principal of Red Bull’s second team throughout its existence.
And so, having been at the helm since 2006, it means that over the years a host of Red Bull prospects have passed through the Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri team, with Tost overseeing their development.
And this has always been his objective for the team, to train stars for Red Bull’s future, and even if Red Bull has not always been the ultimate destination, the wider grid also sports examples of success under the Tost era, such as Carlos Sainz who now finds himself at Ferrari.
“We wanted to train young Red Bull drivers and we certainly succeeded,” said Tost, as per GPFans. “Carlos Sainz, [Pierre] Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo and also Yuki Tsunoda are incredibly fast. They have improved tremendously and have done a great job. That’s good to see.”
Tost is speaking in past tense there, and this is because he is now reaching the point of looking back at his Formula 1 career, having announced that F1 2023 will be his final season in Formula 1.
After this year Tost will look to settle into retired life, and once he does, who will he look back on as the absolute premier talent that he worked with at Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri?
As it turns out there are two, and neither driver took much thought to name.
Step forward Sebastian Vettel, who claimed the first and only victory under the Toro Rosso name back at Monza in 2008, and he is joined by Max Verstappen, who shattered records when joining Toro Rosso as a 17 year old back in 2015, spending a season-and-a-bit with them before receiving his Red Bull promotion.
Vettel went on to win four World titles in a row with Red Bull, while Verstappen already seems well on his way to a third in as many seasons.
“That’s not a difficult question,” said Tost when asked to pick his favourites. “Looking back, of course those are Verstappen and Vettel. They were the fastest, otherwise they wouldn’t have won so much.”
Tost was keen to point out though that there were other drivers he worked with who despite not having those sort of accolades, were not a million miles away from that duo in terms of outright speed.
“But there were also other good drivers who were not that much slower,” Tost continued.
“Maybe it was not the right time for them or they were not driving with the right team. But these two were definitely the best drivers.”
AlphaTauri to return to Red Bull junior focus?
Tost’s impending exit is seemingly just one piece in the puzzle of an upcoming major overhaul to Red Bull’s second team, with his place to be taken by current Ferrari race director Laurent Mekies, while Peter Bayer will arrive as CEO.
Red Bull and AlphaTauri advisor Helmut Marko has confirmed that the team is definitely not up for sale, though it seems there will be change in plenty of other areas, as on top of the new personnel, another name alteration and moving the team closer to Red Bull’s Milton Keynes base are possibilities.
And what would surely also benefit the team and Red Bull as a whole is to go back to the ‘junior team’ mindset, as since that purpose has become a little distorted in recent years, it feels like AlphaTauri has lost its way.
Recalls to the fold for Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat, plus the move to bring in former Formula E champ Nyck de Vries for F1 2023 represented a change of direction, even if the limited options in the Junior Team did play a part. Liam Lawson though could have made a case for getting the nod over De Vries.
And now the results just are not coming, the team saddled with loftier expectations as Red Bull’s sister team and sporting more experience in their driver line-ups.
Marko found the team’s 2022 showing to be unacceptable, as an experienced figure in Gasly, now out of the running to return to Red Bull, partnered Junior Team graduate Yuki Tsunoda on the way to P9 in the Constructors’ standings. Already a similar result, or worse, looks possible in F1 2023 with the Tsunoda-De Vries pairing.
Tsunoda’s F1 progress has been something of a slow burner, but now into his third season he is looking much more like the real deal, a driver who should Red Bull not retain Sergio Perez beyond 2024, could very well stake his claim for that vacancy.
And it certainly feels like a downgrade back to junior team, developing more stars like Tsunoda and some of the names which Tost has mentioned, would surely be the ideal way to get AlphaTauri back on the right path, with a clear identity and focus once more.