Exclusive interview - Gerhard Berger 23 Nov 2006
Although Toro Rosso scored only one point this season, co-owner and team principal Gerhard Berger must be satisfied when he reflects on the teams overall performance. Toro Rosso, formerly Minardi, used to be regulars at the very back of the grid, but in 2006 they consistently outperformed their old rivals and even occasionally challenged their higher-ranking sister team, Red Bull. Here, Berger reviews the teams season and looks forward to 2007
Q: How would you sum up Toro Rossos first season?
Gerhard Berger: Scuderia Toro Rosso had a good first season, coming from what was the Minardi team. There were many aspects of that operation we wanted to modify, in terms of how we wanted to see things progress in the future. We increased the resources, improved the car, and all of it while working with two young drivers. Basically, we tried to build that into a new Toro Rosso team. There was a lot of work that the outside world never saw and the result was that we moved forward and we performed consistently over the race weekends. We finished a lot of races - in fact we were fifth in the order of teams in terms of how many races we completed. That means we did a good job of preparing the cars. The atmosphere within the team is good and everything is in place to make the next move forward in 2007, although it will be even tougher than the first step we took in 2006.
Q: You have seen Formula One racing from three different perspectives: as a driver, as a sporting director and now as a team co-owner. In your experience, how do the challenges of each of these three roles differ?
GB: It is very difficult to categorize these jobs. When I became a Formula One driver, it was a fantastic feeling knowing I had entered the top level of the sport and I was doing what I loved doing. There were a lot of pressures; the need to perform well, the need to deal with the media and sponsors and so on, but basically being a driver you are looked after by your team to a certain extent so there are some aspects that make it the least severe of the three jobs, but the risks and dangers also make it the most severe. Having run our family transport company I had some experience of driving a desk so my time as sporting director did not seem like such unfamiliar territory to me. The pluses and minuses of this type of work are less obvious than when you are racing. As for my current role, in some ways it is the biggest challenge, because although we have an improved budget to work with, only a year ago, we evolved from what was the smallest team on the grid, so there is a lot to do.
Q: David Coulthard has been reported as saying that Toro Rosso, although the junior team, often fought Red Bull for the same positions. Has Toro Rosso performed well or Red Bull performed poorly?
GB: The answer is a bit of both. I think we did perform better than expected as I explained earlier. Although the restrictor rule meant our engine was down on power, it performed well and the package and the team as a whole improved throughout the year, while the drivers also did well. It is not really my place to comment on another team, but it is well known that Red Bull Racing had problems right from the start of pre-season testing and this led them to stop development quite early on the 2006 car to concentrate on their 2007 project.
Q: You recently made headlines with a statement that Toro Rosso is looking for sponsors. Considering how protective Red Bull is of its image - how intensely are you searching and in what industry?
GB: Yes, it is true we are open to taking on board new sponsors as long as they fit in with Red Bull philosophy. To that end, we even appointed a person to our staff to look after this specific task. Where could these sponsors come from? Anywhere, as long as they fitted in well with our image and as long as they did not manufacture an energy drink!
Q: Could bringing in a paying driver be an option - if not for a race seat then for testing duties?
GB: Everything is possible, but we would not employ a driver simply because he brings money to the team.
Q: Dr Helmut Marko, Red Bulls motorsport consultant, was reported as saying that Red Bull signed Mark Webber because Toro Rosso would not release one of their drivers. Does that suggest your 2007 driver line-up will remain the same as it was in 2006?
GB: I am not prepared to discuss our driver line-up for 2007 at the moment.
Q: Regarding your 2007 car, some circles argue that you might use this years Ferrari-powered Red Bull car and declare it the new Toro Rosso
GB: There is no truth in that at all. We are building our own cars here in Faenza. Apart from any questions of legality, we are a serious Formula One team and we cannot expect to compete and move up the order if we are simply using a car from last year. Of course, because Red Bull owns two teams, we can take advantage of some joint technologies.
Q: How concrete are the team's plans to build a new factory in Faenza?
GB: We are still evaluating the situation, as we continue to restructure the team. We have made many structural changes to our current facility but we still want to build a new factory and are currently investigating possible sites in this area.