The 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marked the last race in Formula 1 for Franz Tost in a Team Principal role as he stepped back following 18 years at the helm of AlphaTauri.
Soon, the Austrian can enjoy a well-deserved retirement, a situation that will likely take some getting used to for Tost, as he possesses a huge passion for motorsport that began during his childhood.
While growing up, F1's popularity was boosted by the Austrian Grand Prix held every year at the Österreichring (now the Red Bull ring). Jochen Rindt became World Champion in 1970 (posthumously) while Niki Lauda had worked his way into F1 and eventually fashioned himself as a legend of the sport.
“I knew from the age of nine or 10 that I would work in motorsport, this was 100 per cent sure,” Tost told RacingNews365 in an exclusive interview. “[Back] then, there was the important period with Jochen Rindt in the 1970s. I looked at all the races, I knew everything.
“I bought, in those days, all the motorsport magazines every year. The summary of the year was like a Bible, I read it two or three times.
“Then I got my driver's license for the normal road car because when I drove races, you first had to have a driver's license for a normal car and then you could ask for a racing driver's license.”
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Tost highlights tough racing schedule
While Tost is perhaps most known for his area in team management, the Austrian ventured into single-seater competition and even had championship success.
“I started with Formula Ford in 1979, 1980 and 1981,” he said. “Some races I won, in 1983 I won the Austrian Formula Ford Championship, which doesn’t mean so much.”
However, Tost soon conceded that his abilities would not take him far as a racing driver and he switched focus to other areas of motorsport, setting him on the path of becoming one of the longest-serving team bosses in F1 history.
“In 1985, I finished my studies in sports science and I stopped racing because I knew I would not become successful, I was too slow.
“I started working with the Walter Lechner Racing School. This was very, very exciting. I was an instructor at a racing school, I was a team manager in Former Ford, Formula Opel Lotus and Formula 3.
“When people nowadays say that we have 23 or 24 races and it’s a lot, I only can smile.
“In those days, we had 40 or 50 races all over the year, because during the winter months, we were in England. We did the English series at Silverstone, Thruxton, Brands Hatch and so on. During the year, it was everywhere. What we have now, it’s like a holiday.”
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Step up to Formula 1
During the 1990s Tost worked his way up the motorsport ladder. He was approached by Willi Weber, the former manager of seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher.
Weber wanted Tost to manage his Formula 3 team, a role that Tost took on with eagerness. Success would follow and soon he was on the radar of F1 teams.
Tost worked closely with Ralf Schumacher and when the German driver signed for BMW Williams in 2000, Tost moved across to the team after being offered a position at BMW as Operations Manager.
“I asked them ‘what would I do at BMW? I’m not an engineer’. [They told me] I must build up the team over there,” Tost reflected.
“It was also very exciting because I was 100 per cent involved in the technical side. I was responsible for the operational jobs between Williams and BMW. It was very, very interesting and I learned a lot.”
Another compatriot got in touch at the end of 2005 as Dietrich Mateschitz met up with Tost and set him up at the helm of AlphaTauri, which then operated under the Toro Rosso name.
“At the end of 2005, it was the 8th of November in 2005, Dietrich Mateschitz sent me to Italy.
“He said ‘Franz you go there, you build up the team - the philosophy is quite clear. You have to educate young drivers from the Red Bull driver pool. Then they have to come to Red Bull Racing to win some championships’.
“I remember we started with around 85 people and then we built up everything and were quite successful.”
Tost aware of AlphaTauri limitations
During his time at the Red Bull sister squad, Tost has seen plenty of talent pass through the team with the most successful going on to take a seat at the front-running squad.
These names include multi-World Champions Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, as well as Daniel Ricciardo who took victory at several Grands Prix with Red Bull.
As the drivers found success at Red Bull after their stints at Toro Rosso, Tost insisted that he had no issues with not being able to work with the drivers during their peak.
“This was always clear for me,” he said. “I was always happy and satisfied when they got a seat at Red Bull.
“It was much more negative for me when Red Bull took Sergio Perez instead of Pierre Gasly [for 2021], for example. I liked it when they took drivers for us, because then [it showed] the team did a good job.
“It was good to see that drivers at Red Bull were winning races and championships. I know from our side that we don't have the infrastructure to win races.
“But what Mateshitz said right from the beginning onwards is ‘I can't afford two teams to fight for a championship. Just lose the synergies from Red Bull Racing and educate the drivers'.”
Loyal to Red Bull
Aside from Tost's achievements of working alongside some striking F1 talent, his loyalty to the Red Bull team must be commended as he spent 18 years in the role at the head of Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri.
His loyalty was never tested, even when he had offers from other teams to join their operations.
“I had a couple of them [offers]. But I liked to stay at Toro Rosso together with Red Bull, we have a good relationship,” Tost said.
“I had a very good relationship with Dietrich Mateschitz and there was always something to do in the team, to build up the infrastructure, to make it better, to make the new building and all this kind of stuff. I never wanted to leave it.”
As Tost himself describes, he has always been open-minded and voiced matters the way he saw them unfold.
“I studied sports science and sports management, how to lead a team and how to build up a company,” he said. “I learned something on the theoretical side but I'm more of a practical person. I had my own Formula Three team as well, running all these teams in Formula Ford, Formula Opel Lotus and Formula Three, I learned a lot.
“Regarding the management of the people, this is how you are thinking and acting as a person. All the employees have very good relationships. I tell them if I don't like something, I'm always open-minded. And it's very important that people really understand what you're thinking and where you are.
“You always try to make fair decisions so that people understand why you decide in this way. And I explain it, it's not that I go here and say, ‘we have to do it in this way’.
“I say, okay, these are the possibilities and we’ll discuss it. And then we find a common position.
“I think that's important. If you want to be a successful manager, you must like to work together with your people. You should always try to have a professional, positive relationship with the employees.”
It's very important that people really understand what you're thinking and where you are
Changing thinking methods
Although Tost's methods of team management have allowed him to forge a successful career, the Austrian asserted that a thriving leader can't be opposed to change.
“You can't follow always your direction if times are changing, you must be flexible,” he said. “It's important that you have a good relationship with the people and you must also talk to the people. You must understand their wishes.
“The new generation has a little bit of a different way of thinking. They take a lot of attention for leisure time and so on. This is something you have to take into consideration otherwise the team will not become successful in the future.”
Such a change that Tost has recognised during his time in F1 is the rise of social media, allowing for a new way for fans to engage with the teams and drivers.
“I belong to the generation for me social media is not so important. But the new generation, new clients and new customers, they consume social media every day. And therefore you have to think about this.
“We built up social media department five years ago, six years ago, and brought in more and more people because it's important for the team.
“You need to be involved in all these different kinds of social media because you have to gain or win the new generation because young people are the future.
“And if they like social media, you must provide them with articles, messages, films, whatever it is, whatever it takes. They like it and then they become F1 fans. Hopefully they become fans of AlphaTauri.”
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