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The unexpected but fortunate headaches facing AlphaTauri - and Red Bull

Just what is going on at AlphaTauri? The new major sponsor still hasn't been announced nor have the drivers for 2024. Aaron Deckers explains.

Tsunoda Singapore
To news overview © Red Bull Content Pool

During the current Formula 1 season, it gradually became clear that AlphaTauri would look different in 2024.

First came the news of new management, and then the fact that the AlphaTauri name would disappear for next season but while it was quickly known that Franz Tost would be stepping down as Team Principal to be replaced by Laurent Mekies and Peter Bayer, there is still come uncertainty of that new major sponsor.

AlphaTauri will remain as Red Bull's sister team, with the decision taken not to sell the Faenza-squad despite several parties being interested. The much rationale here is that Red Bull management believes the team could become much more valuable in the coming years, while also maintaining some sporting benefits from having a second team.

It is the wish of Red Bull management that the second team should cost 'nothing' extra financially, and that means finding sponsors. In short, finding external sponsors which combined with prize money means the team can operate at the cost cap limit without Red Bull topping up the budget.

Initially, the perfect sponsor seemed to have been found in Hugo Boss to sell the AlphaTauri clothing brand to and make it the main sponsor of the AlphaTauri F1 team.

During the Singapore GP, new CEO Bayer confirmed to Blick that Hugo Boss will step up to be part of the project, but that a larger sponsor will step in to become the main title sponsor.

Adidas has been metioned in the paddock as a potential suitor, and that is a choice that is not illogical.

Formula 1 is 'hot' at the moment, and several major clothing brands want to enter Grand Prix racing, or at the very least, expand their existing prescence to boost thier returns in terms of both exposure and merchandise.

It is entirely possible however, that Bayer's statement about an "even bigger sponsor" is simply being used as a tool to squeeze just a bit more from the negtioations with Hugo Boss and other parties.

Who will be the 2024 drivers?

It is still unclear at this stage what AlphaTauri intends to do with its driver selection for 2024.

A few months ago, it seemed that Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo was going to be the line-up, but there has been a change in recent weeks.

Ricciardo assumes that he will have a seat as multiple sources in the paddock have revealed that he was guarenteed a one-and-a-half year deal when he took over Nyck de Vries' seat after the British Grand Prix.

But he has not been able to stake his claim since being injured in practice for the Dutch Grand Prix and breaking his hand.

Replacement Liam Lawson is performing well above expectations and has thrown his hat into the ring with his performances, including a ninth-place in Singapore for the best finish any of the four drivers have managed all season.

The New Zealander's performances is giving Red Bull and AlphaTauri additional headaches when deciding on what is the right choice.

Tsunoda meanwhile, seems to be losing the 'momentum' behind him, despite a decent 2022 season and strong start to this having stepped into the team leader role - with de Vries unable to bridge the gap to Tsunoda in his 10 races before being ousted after the British GP for Ricciardo.

Multiple sources have indicated some uncertainty around Tsunoda's position and that he is not as supported by Honda as he once was - with the manufacturer believed to be setting its sights on Ayumu Iwasa.

The Formula 2 racer is still not quite ready for a promotion to F1, but it does not make good reading for Tsunoda's future if Iwasa has been identified by Honda as the future.

The article continues below the images.

Ricciardo ideal sign?

Should Mekies and Bayer thus choose Lawson and Ricciardo, Tsunoda could still become the third driver at Red Bull. Thus, Honda still has a Japanese driver within the Red Bull family and could quietly move into the future at Aston Martin. There seem to be more opportunities for Honda there as well, to get back to bigger exposure and sponsorships in the future.

Should Mekies and Bayer opt for Lawson and Ricciardo, Tsunoda could still become third driver at Red Bull allowing Honda to still have a Japanese driver within the Red Bull family, and making it potentially easier for a move to Aston Martin in future.

More clarity is expected to emerge during the Japanese GP weekend regarding the 2024 line-up.

It can be read that if Tsunoda does not receive the certainty of being announced for 2024 during his home Grand Prix, his position will be under considerable pressure.

After all, there's no better place to announce a contract extension than during a driver's home race, right?

In any case, it is clear that Ricciardo will have an advantage when one or more clothing sponsors commit to the team.

The Australian is an ideal poster-boy for such brands, and he acclimatised well during his two races in Hungary and Belgian to the tricky AT04 car, with the same being said about Lawson who has surprised the whole paddock with his performances.

Those performances should be rewarded with an F1 seat, but three-into-two doesn't go and so AlphaTauri's new management will have to 'sacrifice' someone else.

The team has three strong drivers to choose from, all of whom have strong commercial and marketing value, with Ricciardo and Lawson currently the two in pole position, but Tsunoda should not be ruled out.

Tsunoda and his management team will be pushing hard to get a deal with Red Bull this weekend, and who knows, maybe a new Japanese sponsor or two could land a helping hand to his case.

Lawson is probably the least interesting of the trio commercially, but if he continues his current form, may be the best driver, qualitatively, for AlphaTauri's future.

What do you think? What choice should Red Bull/AlphaTauri make? Let us know in the comments and by voting in the poll below!

F1 2023 Japanese Grand Prix RN365 News dossier

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