Mid-Season Review: Toro Rosso

Central to Toro Rosso’s very existence in the sport is its influence on bright young talent. Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat all excelled in the Toro Rosso proving ground and based on the evidence of the first ten races of 2015, the team’s current duo have all the hallmarks of recreating the success of the aforementioned trio. While Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr have been sensational this season, credit should also be given to Toro Rosso’s technical team, who have delivered one of Faenza’s greatest ever products for their young star’s to play with.

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Timeline of the season so far

  • 31st January – The STR10 is unveiled and is dubbed by Toro Rosso Team Principal Franz Tost as “the best car they have built”. Tost also targets fifth place in the constructors standings for 2015.
  • 29th March – Max Verstappen becomes the youngest points scorer in F1 history, at just 17 years and 180 days old, smashing the record previously held by former Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat.
  • 3rd April – Dr Helmut Marko suggests that Toro Rosso could be rebranded with a yellow livery to give engine suppliers Renault a greater commercial presence in F1 – a rumour which has since drifted into obscurity.
  • 13th April – Following a stunning drive in China, only to be curtailed by unreliability, Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle suggests that Verstappen has the potential to be a World Champion by the age of 20.
  • 9th May – Toro Rosso complete a lock-out of the third row in a sensational qualifying performance for the team, with Sainz lining up fifth and Verstappen in sixth.
  • 24th May – Despite driving a courageous race in Monaco, Verstappen’s day ended buried in the barriers following a dramatic collision with Romain Grosjean.
  • 4th June – After facing criticism for his driving in Monaco from Felipe Massa, Verstappen retaliated ahead of the Canadian GP, suggesting that the Brazilian revisit the footage of his accident at the Circuit de Gilles Villenueve in 2014 before making further comments.

Team Performance

Current Constructors Standing: 7th (31 points)

The mere structure of the Red Bull programme means that the team’s performance will always be overshadowed by talk of the drivers. However, the efforts of the technical boffins at Faenza deserve as much acclaim this season, as they have produced a very efficient package. The STR10 is a significant step up from its predecessor, in what has been incremental improvement since 2011.

James Key’s influence on this season’s car should not be underestimated. This is the first car in which the Technical Director has been at the helm to oversee the entire process and the STR10 can be added to the Sauber C31 as excellent Key cars. It is no wonder that he was linked with a move to Red Bull to fill the void left by Adrian Newey in late 2014.

In many ways, Toro Rosso have underachieved so far this season, given the strength of their package and talent of their drivers. Unreliability has plagued their campaign thus far, with a Toro Rosso only making it to the chequered flag on 11 of a possible 20 occasions. In an interview with the official F1 website, Tost labelled this as “not a good enough percentage”. He added, “You cannot expect to talk from a successful operation if you do not finish a race nine times. We are seventh in the constructors championship because we simply lost too many points.”

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Driver Performance

Max Verstappen

Current Drivers Championship Position: 11th (22 points)

Best Finish: 4th (Hungarian GP)

Grade: A

Carlos Sainz Jr

Current Drivers Championship Position: 16th (9 points)

Best Finish: 8th (Malaysian GP)

Grade: A

With a combined age of 37, Toro Rosso faced a barrage of questions prior to the season regarding the unprecedented inexperience of their driver line-up. While Sainz entered the sport as Formula Renault 3.5 champion, Verstappen had just one year of car racing under his belt, following his F3 Euro Series endeavors of 2014. The answer to the critics has been nothing short of emphatic, with both drivers performing in the manner of seasoned professionals from FP1 in Australia onwards.

The all-important battle between them has been intriguing. While Sainz commands an edge in terms of performances on both a Saturday and a Sunday, by 6 races to Verstappen’s 4 in both instances, the Dutchman enters the mid-season break a long way clear of his chief rival in the championship, courtesy of his 12 point haul for a remarkable fourth place finish in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

It is unfair, however, to let the points disparity be an influencing factor regarding the assessment of the pair, given that unreliability was the only factor which prevented Sainz from bagging fourth spot at the Hungaroring. In truth, Sainz has been the better of the two drivers so far this season, but given Verstappen’s comparative lack of experience, he deserves as much acclaim as the Spaniard. Both have drained the book of superlatives dry in 2015.

Mid-Season Assessment

B+

To have found themselves languishing in seventh place at the mid-way point of the campaign is rather unfortunate for Toro Rosso. Unreliability has been the only blot on an otherwise impressive copybook this season and if they and Renault can resolve their technical gremlins, Tost’s early season ambition of a fifth place finish may well be rewarded.

Image Credit: "F1 - OPERATION PISTE RENAULT SPORT MONACO 2015" and "DSC_9764"
By Renault Sport and Jon Large (via Flickr) [CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0]
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