Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: End of the Road for AlphaTauri

This weekend will mark the end of a number of eras surrounding Scuderia AlphaTauri, though Alfa Romeo’s departure has seemingly captured more headlines.

The Red Bull-owned junior team began life back in 1985 when Giancarlo Minardi began to field entries in Formula 1. Minardi made a brand of being an underdog, competing with very little funding but still scrapping by for years.

The Italian team spent 21 years on the F1 grid, never scoring a podium and leading only a single lap in competition. Minardi also generally avoided pay drivers, instead focusing on employing young talent. Fernando Alonso began his career at Minardi, as did Mark Webber and Giancarlo Fisichella. Alex Zanardi and Justin Wilson also competed for Minardi before moving on to find success in IndyCar. A driver named Jos Verstappen also competed as the team’s lead driver for a team in the early 2000s.

In 2001, Minardi was sold to Paul Stoddart, who continued to field the team as Minardi out of its shop in Faenza, Italy. Stoddart also served as team principal and was known for doing a lot of talking, threatening to pull out of F1 three times in 2004 and 2005 alone while also frequently calling for Max Mosely to be relieved of his duties as FIA President.

After 2005, Stoddart sold his team to Red Bull, with the gentleman’s agreement that the team remain open and based in Faenza. Red Bull Racing had just completed its first season as an F1 team and decided simply to buy a team to field rookie drivers as part of its fledging Red Bull Junior program.

The newly renamed Scuderia Toro Rosso (Italian for “Team Red Bull”) retained an agreement Minardi had with the FIA that allowed the team to run rev-limited V10 engines instead of the standard V8s of the time. To this day, the Toro Rosso STR1 is the final car that ran V10 engines in F1 history (sound way up):

In addition to fielding almost all Red Bull Juniors since 2006, the team has also proven very helpful for Red Bull at various points. The STR2 inherited a Ferrari engine deal that RBR had in 2006 before getting cold feet, allowing the main team to move over to Renault in 2007 instead of waiting out its Ferrari contract.

Toro Rosso would stay with their Italian peers all the way until 2014 when the team finally joined the main team with Renault. Later in 2018, Toro Rosso became the first Red Bull-owned team to run Honda engines, as the main team finished out its contract with Renault before moving over to the Japanese engine manufacturer in 2019. That same year, Toro Rosso would rebrand into Scuderia AlphaTauri, to promote Red Bull’s clothing brand.

For its first four years, 2006 to 2009, Toro Rosso ran a car that was either identical or the exact same chassis of the previous year’s Red Bull, finally switching to independently developing its own cars in 2010.

Rather infamously, in 2008, the junior team beat the main team both in constructor points and in the race to get the first win. Yes, that’s right; the first Red Bull F1 win was with the junior team, not with Red Bull Racing.

Sebastian Vettel drove a fantastic race in the pouring rain at Monza to get that first win. Vettel would then be the first graduate of Toro Rosso to join the main Red Bull team (without counting Webber, who only drove for the team in the Minardi days), and went on to score four straight driver championships from 2010 to 2013.

Six drivers have been promoted from the junior team to the main team throughout its history, with Vettel somehow being the only one to make the jump from 2006 to 2014, when Daniel Ricciardo broke through.

In 2014, the Red Bull Juniors program would make the biggest gamble in director Helmut Marko’s career. Max Verstappen, a 16-year-old hot shoe with just one year of single-seater racing under his belt entering the season, signed a contract that gave him a race seat in a Toro Rosso for 2015.

The signing and Verstappen’s subsequent participation in FP1 for the Japanese Grand Prix at just a hair over 17 years old led the FIA to become much more stringent in who could be approved for an F1 Super License. The organization moved to create its current SL point system while also bumping the minimum age requirement to 18 years old, with Verstappen being grandfathered in.

It is ironic that Verstappen, who has ended up being a complete jackpot and the the greatest prospect out of the Junior program, is the one who also neutered it.

With the SL point system implemented, the junior team had to be much more selective with who gets a seat in F1. In its first ten seasons, the team ran eight rookies, with Daniel Ricciardo not counting due to running half a season with HRT in 2011.

Prior to this season, the eight years from 2015 to 2022 saw four rookie drivers make their debut for the team. So many Red Bull juniors just aren’t able to obtain the SL points to get into F1, nor do drivers the team has looked at outside of its system, such as Colton Herta. This system also effected the main team, as no suitable in-house candidates led to Sergio Perez being hired, a move that has created a confounding relationship. Nyck de Vries was also hired outside of the organization before being fired mid-season this year.

Vettel, Ricciardo, and Verstappen are the lone drivers to be promoted and win races for the main team. Pierre Gasly won a race for the junior team in 2020 after infamously being demoted back to the junior team mid-season, while Alexander Albon and Daniil Kvyat scored podiums but no wins.

This weekend will mark the end of the AlphaTauri name. The team will rebrand into a more outside-sponsor-friendly name, with Racing Bulls supposedly being what the team has settled on.

The name won’t be the only thing, though. Franz Tost, who has led the team as its principal since 2006, is retiring following this season. Eight of the 22 drivers who started a race this season drove under Tost.

What’s more is that the team will reportedly be departing its Faenza shop, ending the great Minardi tradition after 39 seasons. Staff will have to either relocate or leave F1. This change leaves Ferrari as the lone Italian team – with Haas primarily operating out of its UK shop – with the majority of its operations based outside of England.

It is sad to see the final bonds of Minardi severed after almost four decades. At the same time, new team principal and current Ferrari sporting director Laurent Mekies will have the chance to start anew. A solid driver lineup of Ricciardo and a seasoned Yuki Tsunoda should help provide a solid foundation. It’s up to Mekies to make the impact.

About the author

michaelfinley010

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021, and also formerly covered the SRX series from 2021-2023. He now covers the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and road course events in the NASCAR Cup Series.

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