VCARB F1 Team new team boss Laurent Mekies leads the Red Bull-owned ‘Junior’ outfit into a new era, beginning with the awkward name of what was formerly AlphaTauri aka Toro Rosso and lofty ambitions for their new era in Formula 1.
Having taken over as Team Principal from Red Bull veteran Franz Tost, the former Ferrari and FIA man Mekies will head the team along with ex-FIA man and new VCARB CEO Peter Bayer.
The pair will lead the ‘new’ team’s 2024 F1 campaign with veteran Daniel Ricciardo and young gun Yuki Tsunoda doing the business in the cockpits.
Amid the team’s Las Vegas 2024 F1 car livery launch Mekies explained the spirit within the rebranded team: “How often do you tackle a project that is pretty much starting a new team? That’s the spirit that is flying around Faenza right now. We are building a new team on an extraordinary base.”
He also elaborated on the restructuring that will happen under his watch: “We’ve had two headquarters for a long time – Faenza and Bicester. The departments in Bicester (design and aero) will move to new facilities in Milton Keynes.
Mekies: Historically it’s always been a disadvantage to have two headquarters
“We are in 2024,” reckoned Mekies. “The world has changed massively. The way people interact is also changing. We want to make it work. We want to make our company a location-free company.
“If tomorrow a department is split between Faenza and Milton Keynes, we think it’s OK. It is a challenge, but we think it’s carrying a lot with it a lot of advantages, we can hire the best people in the UK and hire the best people in Europe,” said Mekies.
An issue that has bubbled up for years is that Red Bull owns two teams of the ten. Not only makes them the most powerful of the nine other operations, if only, because they have four cars in on the F1 grid as opposed to other teams with their two.
However, with the clear objective to move up the F1 pecking order, the threat of Red Bull’s ‘junior team’ taking away points (aka prize money) from their rivals will become more of an issue. Hypothetically speaking, what if Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in their Red Bulls finish one-two and the VCARBs of Ricciardo and Tsunoda 3-4 in a Grand Prix?
That is sure to put a spotlight on the two Red Bull teams, from race tactics through to how similar the RBR and VCARB cars will be as they intend to maximise the ‘sharing technology’ aspect of the F1 regulations which in this case is said to include the gearbox as well as front and rear suspensions.
Mekies: We’re in a situation where we have one owner of two teams
But Mekies insists: “We’re not strictly speaking at the maximum, but it’s quite close to it – as you would if you were owned by the same company. The regulations are crystal clear regarding what you need to do yourself and what you can buy.
“Historically, for example, it’s accepted that you are buying your power unit from a third party. Together with the PU, you can buy the gearbox and the suspension. Those are the main items that you can[use] if you decide to do so.
“The regulations make sure you’re doing the rest of the car on your own – your chassis, your aero, your cooling systems, everything that impacts performance – that is something that defines manufacturers and the regulations are very clear.
“We’re in a situation where we have one owner of two teams, and of course, we are being asked – ‘what can we share?’ We should share. We are looking at the regulations and doing the sharing we’re able to do. On the side we have in our hand – which is the largest part of the car – we’re pushing as hard as we can to gear up to fight for bigger prizes.”
Can VCARB do better than P8 they finished as AlphaTauri in the Championship in 2024?
Mekies continued: “It also comes with some downside. If you take someone else’s gearbox, which a lot of teams are doing, you will have to wait until the team has designed the gearbox to understand where your suspension points will be – which impacts your aero decisions. There are compromises.”
Regarding their 2024 F1 challenger, Mekies revealed: “We have developed the car till the last part of the year so the starting point is not very different to what you saw in Abu Dhabi last year. Together with all the deep changes we are making, we will try and find our new path and development rate, which hopefully will take us to a better place.
“But we are conscious that the early phase of the season will probably be a fairly tough one because of how hard we pushed at the end of last year and how deep the changes are that we made this winter.
“It’s natural this will push the proper development for later in the season. It’s a conscious choice we have made, even if it might hurt in the short term. We’re trying to build a new project and build it for the long run,” added Mekies.
Last year as AlphaTauri, the team finished eighth in the F1 Constructors standings. 2024 will be the RB ‘Junior’ team’s 19th season in the top flight, including the Toro Rosso spell. During this period the best they finished was sixth, in 2008, 2019 and 2021.