It is difficult to judge how Toro Rosso will assess their season and I would be willing to suggest that the conclusions would vary depending on who you speak to. For Jean Eric Vergne, 2013 was a year of midfield obscurity, where the Frenchman rarely made the headlines. Meanwhile, for Daniel Ricciardo, it was mission accomplished as he made a successful graduation to Red Bull to take the place of Mark Webber, while scoring a rather modest 20 points. However, with a graduate from the junior team to the top, should 2013 be considered a success for the team regardless of the disappointing points tally?
When scanning through Toro Rosso’s season statistics, the issues experienced throughout this season are immediately found. Neither Daniel Ricciardo nor Jean Eric Vergne enjoyed a particularly stunning weekend, with the team’s best result of the year coming in Canada, with a P6 finish courtesy of Vergne. The modest points total of 33 was surmounted with innocuous low scoring results at the tail end of the points. Meanwhile, rival teams such as Sauber and Force India were enjoying stand out performances such as Paul Di Resta’s P4 in Bahrain or Nico Hulkenberg’s P4 in Korea, while holding off Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso for the majority of the race. Toro Rosso lacked the eye catching results to back up their frequent appearances in the lower points paying places.
So, which of the two drivers experienced the better season? You would immediately be inclined to suggest that Ricciardo had the better 2013, as he achieved his goal of graduating to Red Bull. Being only the second Toro Rosso driver to do so and following in the footsteps of Sebastian Vettel, this is difficult to argue against. In addition, his 20 points compared to his teammate’s tally of 13, is further proof of his improved performance compared to Vergne.
However, it is not quite as clear cut as it initially appears. Vergne experienced a number of unavoidable incidents throughout the season and these came at crucial times. Most notably, his tyre failure at Silverstone came when he was running strongly in the points and at a time when Red Bull were in the process of deciding on a replacement for Webber. The failure forced Vergne into retirement, while Ricciardo was far less unfortunate and came home in an eye-catching P8. Then in the following race weekend in Germany, Vergne suffered yet more misfortune as a hydraulic issue resulted in another DNF. While judgement was likely to have already been passed at this stage, the Italian Grand Prix ended in yet more disappointment for Jean Eric, as a transmission failure curtailed his progress. Elsewhere, Ricciardo was once again in the points, claiming a solid P7. The decision was made and Vergne was disappointed.
“It was a disappointment of course not to go to Red Bull. As a racing driver you want to win races and be World Champion, and for this you need the best car – and Red Bull is the best car,” he said during Sky Sports F1’s Toro Rosso season review show. “So it was a big disappointment I had to go through. Then I had to look in the mirror and say, ‘Why did Red Bull pick him up and not me?’ I think that helped me a lot in trying to be better.”
For Dr Helmut Marko and company, it was a more promising year in the lower formula. It was a tricky decision to announce Daniel Ricciardo’s replacement, with a number of Red Bull hopefuls performing exceptionally well this year. While Antonio Felix Da Costa was seemingly nailed on for the drive, Daniil Kvyat’s GP3 triumph won the confidence of the Toro Rosso decision makers and he claimed the drive. Incredible performances in the final two FP1 sessions has somewhat justified the decision.
Meanwhile, the choice to retain Vergne for yet another year is just short of inexplicable. After being snubbed once by Red Bull, how can he rebuild his reputation within the Red Bull driver programme. The only explanations which can be suggested are that Vergne will support Kvyat rather than compete directly against him in the event that Red Bull need a new driver in the event that Daniel Ricciardo fails to live up to the billing. This is the more cynical standpoint. Alternatively, he may have been retained due to Franz Tost’s acknowledgement of the unfortunate events which have befallen Vergne this season, meaning that his new contract was born from sympathy. However, these are both unlikely theories, with the real reason of reappointment being hidden within the team.
Toro Rosso finally have another graduate of their programme, which will undoubtedly justify their efforts throughout the past years in the eyes of owner Mateschitz. However, the competitive capacity of the team will be disappointed by this season’s modest points total and will hope that the exciting signing of Kvyat will catalyse a strong 2014 campaign.