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The one shining light from AlphaTauri's poor start to 2023

AlphaTauri have endured a tricky start to the 2023 F1 season, although there has been one bright spot for the Italian squad.

AlphaTauri's start to the 2023 Formula 1 season has firmly been 'miss' as opposed to 'hit', with the AT04 proving a tricky machine for drivers Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries. Weak in the slow-speed corners, in Saudi Arabia, boss Franz Tost publicly slammed his engineering team at Faenza, saying he didn't "trust" them anymore after the car's difficult birth and early life. It comes off the back of the team sliding to ninth in the 2022 Constructors' Championship, having not been able to adjust to the new ground-effect regulations as swiftly as rival outfits in the midfield. De Vries has been plucked from the Grand Prix racing periphery and is one of the more experienced rookies of recent times, but he too has struggled to settle in. That leaves the driver, arguably the one on the grid under the most pressure coming into 2023 to save his career: Tsunoda. And despite the performance – or lack of – from the AT04, it seems that pressure is beginning to unlock the potential the Japanese racer has.

Tsunoda's Saudi drive

After an 11th place finish in Bahrain, the team were slightly more optimistic that the fast-sweeping nature of Saudi Arabia could help boost their performance owing to the slow-speed and traction deficiencies in the package. In qualifying, Tsunoda had a healthy margin of about three-tenths to de Vries – although both cars were out in Q1 – but, come race day, the former put in a standout performance. For lap after lap, he rebuffed the advances of Kevin Magnussen's Haas, fighting for 10th place and the final World Championship point, before the Dane ultimately squeezed by with just five tours to go. Tsunoda's frustration at losing out in the cat and mouse game was clear, as just a second points finish since last year's Spanish Grand Prix slipped through his fingers. His out-performing of the car and noticeable step forward is timely, however, given the ruthless nature of AlphaTauri and the Red Bull driver programme. It is something his boss Tost has picked up on. "Yuki made a big step forward, not only from the driving side [but] also from the technical side," Tost explained to media, including RacingNews365.com , in Saudi Arabia. "His technical feedback is really good, and I must say, also, his race [in Bahrain] was competitive. I think he got the most out of the car, and Nyck is still learning. "What we have to provide the drivers is a fast car and then they are there. Both of them are high-skilled drivers; both of them showed in the past that they can win races, that they can win championships. "It’s up to the team to provide them with a competitive car."

The reason for a change?

In Tsunoda's first two seasons, he was the number two to Pierre Gasly, striking up a good friendship with the Frenchman – as was seen in a Drive to Survive glimpse behind the scenes when the two, in what can politely be described as 'butcher' what RacingNews365.com eventually figured out to be an Adele classic. But Gasly has departed for 2023 for pastures new at Alpine, forcing Tsunoda into a greater deal of responsibility as team leader, something that has been noticed by observers. "You could see how devastated – and I don't think that's too strong a word – he was when Pierre, who he's learned everything from [left the team]," explained presenter Lee McKenzie on the F1 Nation podcast. "The relationship that he and Pierre had was really lovely to see, it was like big brother, little brother, and I think he was bereft when he found out that Pierre was leaving last year. "He has a big role to take on, because at the same time, there is pressure as he knows how good his teammate is who is coming in this year. "Nyck de Vries is not going to be so welcoming, he made it clear from the start, he's here to show what he can do. "He is the teammate [David Coulthard] was talking about: you don't want a best friend and he wants to beat Yuki, so Yuki has had to step things up."

RESULTS 2024 F1 Monaco Grand Prix - Free Practice 2