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Speed tests on as the rumours fly 26 Jul 2007

Scott Speed (USA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR2.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 21 July 2007 (L to R): Scott Speed (USA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR2 with Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 22 July 2007 Scott Speed (USA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR2.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 21 July 2007 Franz Tost (AUT) Scuderia Toro Rosso Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Practice Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Friday, 20 July 2007 Scott Speed (USA) Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Thursday, 12 April 2007

In the last few days, Scott Speed has generated more than his fair share of headlines in the Formula One press, many of them claiming his days with Toro Rosso are numbered. It looked like business as usual for the American on Wednesday, however, as he tested with the team at Mugello in Italy.

The headlines in question followed what was - like for many of his colleagues - a difficult weekend at the Nurburgring. He qualified a lowly 18th, fell victim to a confused pit stop as the rain hit early in the race, and then promptly aquaplaned off into gravel trap, along with team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi - and several others.

It seems Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost was not impressed. According to Speed, an altercation took place between the two men when he got back to the pits, one which ended with Tost grabbing his driver by the overalls.

“Franz was furious that I’d crashed in Turn One,” Speed told Racer magazine. “When I asked him about the pit stop he said it doesn’t matter because you crashed, and he didn’t want to hear any criticisms about what the team did.”

Speed admitted that Tost subsequently apologised, but the American made it pretty clear he thought his future with the squad was in doubt. It is the latest episode in what has been a difficult year for driver and team alike. An unusually late announcement confirming Speed’s seat certainly didn’t help matters, and since then a combination of driver error, reliability problems with the STR02 and sheer bad luck has left him with just three races finishes to his name.

Neither he nor Liuzzi has scored points, but with a considerable budget, the Red Bull-backed Toro Rosso squad are understandably under pressure to bring home better performances. As a result, relations between management and drivers look to have become frosty to say the least and at the Nurburgring, where the team recorded their fifth double DNF of the season, it seems things just boiled over - temporarily at least.

Speed has been a member of the Red Bull family since winning the Austrian drink company’s driver search programme in 2003 and was keen to stress he remains loyal to the firm that gave him his break, despite the alleged weekend events.

“I know that it’s going to hurt Red Bull, and that’s definitely not my intention, because (Red Bull owner) Dietrich Mateschitz and Red Bull have been a huge support to me,” said Speed of his decision to go public with his grievances. “They’re the reasons I have achieved everything I have in motor racing.”

Although Toro Rosso remained decidedly tight-lipped after Sunday’s Grand Prix - their post-race press release read simply, “Nothing to say today” - Tost has recently admitted his growing frustration with the performance of his drivers.

“They need to improve,” he explained in an interview with Toro Rosso’s press office. “So far it has been difficult for both of them to get the most out of the car, especially in qualifying. There is room for improvement in every aspect of our team.”

Toro Rosso have also been quite open about their quest for possible driver replacements. The squad has invited three-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais to test on three occasions, while Sebastian Vettel, currently on loan from Red Bull to BMW Sauber as their reserve driver, has also been mentioned as a potential stand-in.

So will Speed keep his seat? It’s difficult to say. Though he’s testing this week and is expected to race at the next round in Hungary, his remarks have created quite a media storm, and one which he will have to ride out quickly if he is to fully heal his relationship with Toro Rosso.