As the only team to have run current F1 machinery at Imola, there was much discussion about AlphaTauri coming into the shortened Emilia Romagna GP weekend.
Before the season kicked off in Spielberg in July, AlphaTauri held a filming day with their current car and a test with the 2018 Toro Rosso at Imola with both drivers getting a taste of the legendary circuit.
With a normal Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, a prior test wouldn’t provide too much of an advantage with a whole three hours on Friday to determine the basics of a setup. These can then be refined on a simulator overnight, back at base, before running with the setup near parc ferme-ready Saturday with all the data for the car gathered.
The change of structure for the Emilia Romagna GP however turned this on its head. The basic running has to be done in conjunction with the more precise setup alterations of the later sessions. A much larger challenge.
AlphaTauri now have data that other teams do not have about the current layout and track surface at Imola for their basic setup. All the little foibles of the circuit are in their back pocket and not in the others.
With only limited setup alterations available in a session and the gap to qualifying, having a good base is paramount.
At the start of practice this morning, that was plain to see. Pierre Gasly was straight on the pace. He was fast.
He was at the top of the midfield on hard tyres, ahead of some on mediums. Gasly had been able to get up to speed at a new track seemingly immediately.
When he strapped the mediums to his AT01 then his pace was even more plain to see. He was clearly the fastest midfield runner. The early pace was close to the Mercedes cars too before they went for a few later runs on their mediums.
Gasly’s teammate Daniil Kvyat ran a split strategy to Gasly to compound the track evolution and was slower than his teammate when he was on the mediums to Gasly’s hards. But later on in the session, Kvyat’s hard running was matching Gasly’s medium times.
This just means the track is getting faster. It doesn’t discount their pace, particularly in Gasly’s hands.
The AlphaTauri this weekend is fast. Very fast.
They took their time to do qualifying simulation runs not coming out until the end of the session but when they did come out the pace was still in the car. AlphaTauri were able to hold the pace in the tyres with Gasly going into fourth position on his second fast lap.
His gap to Bottas was closer than the gap behind him to Albon.
Kvyat’s qualifying simulation was a few tenths off Gasly’s but was still very high in eighth.
It was the two Renaults who split the AlphaTauris which can be expected as more power reliant circuits have proved to be the strong suit for the French manufacturer. Charles Leclerc was in the mix too with his immense one lap form chucking him into the equation.
This weekend the fight for third best team well and truly involves AlphaTauri. If trouble strikes the big guns at the top then even a podium is on the cards.