Welcome back to Race Chaser Online’s preview of the 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship! We continue our 11-day journey through the field today with a look at Toro Rosso as we continue to lead up to next weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix! Make sure to check Race Chaser Online all season long for all of your stateside-based news from the Formula One world!
March 6, 2014 — Story by RaceChaser open wheel correspondent Joel Sebastianelli — photo credit RedBull.com — Perception mirrors reality, and although Scuderia Toro Rosso pulled away from the Red Bull Racing sheath to compete as a truly independent constructor in 2010, the Italian race team is still seen as a satellite sister team. Originally formed with the task of developing young drivers for the senior squad nine years ago, the team has helped mold superstars Sebastian Vettel as well as recent graduate Daniel Ricciardo into race seats with Red Bull.
Even if the direct familial relationship has been severed, the team is still owned by the Austrian beverage company that bears its name (Toro Rosso is Italian for “Red Bull”) and continues to exist by fielding cars for some of the most promising rising stars in open wheel racing. Fielding the partnership of Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne for two seasons, Toro Rosso achieved moderate success, including an 8th place finish in the constructors’ chase in 2013.
The momentum seemed to be building stronger heading into 2014 amid the announcement in May that the team would be switching from Ferrari to Renault engines. However, the manufacturer move may have backfired in the short term, and with the addition of the youngest Formula One driver on the grid, Daniil Kvyat, to replace the team’s most consistent budding star, Daniel Ricciardo, the upcoming season is a year filled with unknowns.
The Drivers: 19-year-old Russian Daniil Kvyat will roll off the line in Melbourne as one of only eight drivers in F1 history to start a Grand Prix under the age of 20, joining former Toro Rosso drivers Sebastian Vettel and Jaime Alguersuari, who holds the all-time record. Although the move came as a surprise to many who suspected prospect Antonio Felix da Costa would inherit the seat, Kvyat brings money but also more consistent results.
Kvyat took GP3 by storm in his first and only season in 2013, securing three consecutive feature victories and four fastest laps en route to claiming the series title with one race to spare. In 2012, Kvyat deservedly took the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps series championship with seven wins in 14 races, while finishing a respectable second with seven more wins as a frontrunner in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Series.
Don’t let his age or nationality fool you—Kvyat has the pedigree and the experience to turn heads on the track in 2014 and beyond, but just how steep the adjustment curve will be remains to be seen.
Alongside the rookie is Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, competing in his third year of action with Toro Rosso. Vergne finished 2012 on a high note, scoring points in three of the final nine Grands Prix of the season. 2013 began on a similar note, finishing in the top 10 in Malaysia, Monaco, and Canada, where he notched a 6th place finish that doubled as the best of his career and the highest classification for Toro Rosso since four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel’s 2008 season.
Despite the high note in Montreal, Vergne quickly slipped out of sight, tallying five total retirements and failing to score a point for the remainder of the campaign, an eyesore next to teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s seven top 10s and 20 points. Vergne is only 23-years-old, but Toro Rosso has never retained a driver for longer than three seasons.
Vergne has posted strong performances in the past at high-speed, winding-corner circuits like Spa-Francorchamps, Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia (the only track he has scored points at twice), and Interlagos, but his record must improve across the calendar if he wants to earn a promotion elsewhere or convince Toro Rosso to keep him for one more go-round .
The Car: Toro Rosso’s STR9 is the first in team history to be powered by Renault. Especially given the distress in the Renault camp over the lack of testing accrued as a result of myriad technical issues, the move from Ferrari seems like bad timing, if only at first. However, the attention attracted by the car in preseason testing is more because of its design than its speed or engine manufacturer.
Once again, new F1 safety regulations have had a negative impact on the aesthetic aspect of the cars. 2012’s rule changes that subsequently created the “stepped effect” were aimed at preventing noses from penetrating the monocoque in crashes, but this year’s regulations take safety a step further, dropping the front nose height to 185mm in hopes it will prevent cars from being launched in the air ala Mark Webber at Valencia.
In 2014, front noses on numerous cars have been stooped down in the so-called “anteater effect.” Additionally, the STR9 features a drooping finger extension that serves as the stagnation point for the airflow hitting the car, before the airflow travels back along the machine. This form of nose aero isn’t exactly a new trick, but the design seems more like a desperate appeal for Viagra sponsorship than a highly technical design.
The Challenges: Right away, Toro Rosso joins Red Bull, Lotus, and Caterham as teams that are behind schedule with Renault in testing. The manufacturer managed to complete just 8770km of testing, while Toro Rosso ranked 8th on mileage compared to other teams (positions 9-11 were occupied by the aforementioned Renault teams). This may have dealt the biggest blow to Daniil Kvyat, who turned in merely 40km at the first week of tests in Jerez and needed all the time he could get in a Formula One car ahead of his rookie season.
The Strengths: On the other hand, Toro Rosso is in good company for teams amongst teams with poor preseason results. Renault will be working with teams to adjust its engine flaws, and even though the cord has supposedly been cut or at least loosened with Red Bull Racing, the two teams still are powered by the same manufacturer, which could bode well for getting back on the winning track as soon as possible.
Although Krvat’s youth is a challenge, it could also be a strength in disguise. The move to V6 turbocharged engines has prompted multiple championship caliber drivers (aside from Kimi Raikkonen, who maintains he still knows what he’s doing) to speak out about the difficulties of adjusting to a totally different driving experience. While he may not have the résumé of his older counterparts, he is starting 2014 in phase one of the new engine era just like them.
“Being a rookie means there’s a steep learning curve, but the bright side of this year’s regulation change is that all the drivers will be getting used to a new way of driving, starting from zero,” Kvyat told reporters gathered at the STR9’s unveiling ceremony. “I have always liked a big challenge. Physically, I feel ready after a good winter training program, concentrating a bit on my neck muscles. The team hasn’t set me any specific targets, so it’s just a case of getting on top of my game as quickly as possible.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. The Russian doesn’t have any prior F1 cockpit time, but at least he won’t be predisposed to reverting back to the style necessary to drive last year’s machine.
Projected Result: The youth of Kvyat is nothing new for Toro Rosso, who has dealt with similar young drivers throughout their history. Coupled with the more experienced Vergne, the team should have some success once the Renault complications are sorted out, but that could take months.
Scuderia Toro Rosso has the funding and talent in place to score points in theory, but it may take a while before this potential is realized due to the unpredictable reliability across the grid, especially in machines powered by Renault. Expect plenty of trials and tribulations before any consistent triumphs, no matter how small. Final Position: 9th.