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‘More Aggressive’ AlphaTauri Welcomes ‘Extraordinary’ Sponsor Orlen

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Team principal Franz Tost (left) and F1 driver Yuki Tsunoda pose with the Scuderia AlphaTauri AT04 at the Orlen filling station near Gödöllő.

Photo by Bence Gaál.

Japanese F1 driver Yuki Tsunoda and Scuderia AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost shared their thoughts regarding racing at the highest level, the importance of sponsors, and the departure of Nyck de Vries at an exclusive press conference ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The 38th Hungarian Grand Prix of Formula 1 was held at the Hungaroring in Mogyoród (just 24 km northeast of Budapest by road) on July 23. As preparations for the race were well underway to accommodate the thousands of fans arriving for the spectacle, the Budapest Business Journal had the opportunity to meet up with the representatives of the racing team and sponsor Orlen S.A. at one of the latter’s refueling stations on the outskirts of Gödöllő, a few kilometers from the track.

The multinational oil refiner and petrol retailer headquartered in Płock, Poland, joined AlphaTauri’s roster of sponsors this year. Accordingly, the team’s cars now have an upgraded livery with red joining its traditional navy blue and white colors.

Tsunoda jokingly noted that the change in livery suits the team as red is a striking color, which makes the car look “more aggressive” and immediately recognizable in the rearview mirror.

“To have such a partner like Orlen is extraordinary. It is very important for every team, and we have a very, very close collaboration with Orlen,” the Austrian Tost said. He added that he was also impressed with the refueling station, which served as the event venue.

Asked why the oil company had chosen AlphaTauri, the junior Red Bull team, to sponsor, Jaroslaw Szeliga, managing director of Orlen Hungary, was full of praise for the Scuderia.

“One of the reasons is that it is a really dynamic team with recognized drivers, and we were looking for a long-term partnership. It is one of the best teams in the world,” Szeliga said. He added that fans of the sport would not only encounter the Orlen logo on the car but “everywhere,” and not only at the Hungaroring, as the company is also present in several marketing materials.

Return of Ricciardo

AlphaTauri arrived at the Hungaroring after a shakeup in its pilot lineup, with star driver Australian Daniel Ricciardo sacked by McLaren at the end of the last season but picked up as a reserve driver by Red Bull, taking the second car from Nyck de Vries.

“I had an enjoyable time over the past 10 races with Nyck. I learned from him, and we also had a good time away from the track. He had plenty of experience in other categories and gave the team good feedback based on his knowledge. He had the pace, and, as a friend, I enjoyed my time with him,” Tsunoda remarked.

Tost also weighed in, noting that while the recently dropped Dutchman had a lot of experience in racing series like Formula E, there are several tracks on the calendar where he had no prior knowledge compared to Ricciardo, a veteran driver with eight Grand Prix wins to his name.

“Believe me, it was a very, very difficult decision because Nyck is a fantastic person with whom I have a very good relationship. He is also an excellent driver,” the team principal noted.

Tsunoda was also asked about the Hungarian track and recalled it had a landmark role in his career.

“Actually, this is the first track I drove on after I came to Europe. I was racing in Japan until I was like 17-18 years old. I was never coming to Europe to do racing. This track was the first time I drove on a European track, and I was still with the Honda Junior program.”

Despite Tsunoda’s fond memories of Hungaroring, AlphaTauri has been underperforming compared to its expectations and came to Hungary last in the Constructor’s Standings.

Performance Counts

“First of all, we have a lot of new upgrades coming. Also, here in Budapest, we will have something new on the car, and then there’s another upgrade coming for Singapore. But I want to see it on the performance in the lap time because this is the only thing which is valid, which counts,” Tost said.

He added that while he is not satisfied with the results so far this season, the arrival of Ricciardo could give the team a push forward in terms of race performance and setting up the car.

Regarding areas for improvement, Tsunoda reflected on his iconic radio messages, which border on shouting, and are loved by viewers but less so by his race engineer.

“Sometimes, I get too frustrated and click the radio button too fast and become like a monster on the radio. I’m just trying to stick to what I have to do, obviously help the team from the development side and give good feedback as much as possible, specific feedback, which is really important for the future as well.”

The Japanese driver also dismissed speculation about his future, telling the audience he is more focused on what’s happening now.

“AlphaTauri will change a lot next year as well, we’ll see how it goes, but for now, I’m pretty happy with the performance, happy with the team, how they are operating. Everyone is facing in the same direction; we are struggling a lot now, but at the same time, everybody wants to improve,” he said.

Post-race Post Script

AlphaTauri’s race weekend at the Hungaroring ultimately did not yield any points, but there was plenty of action from the green lights. Daniel Ricciardo, who started 13th after a good qualifying performance on Saturday, was hit from behind at the start by Zhou Guanyu in an Alfa Romeo, which left the Australian at the back of the field, but he had managed to claw his way back to 13th by the end. Yuki Tsunoda finished two places behind Ricciardo, despite having good race pace, due to a slow pit stop. Speaking after the race, chief engineer Claudio Balestri said, “We’ll focus on the next race [in Belgium this weekend], where we believe we’ll be in the position to fight for points.”

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of July 28, 2023.

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