Exclusive Franz Tost Q&A - Toro Rosso in bullish mood 18 Mar 2009
Toro Rosso were the surprise package of 2008. The whole chemistry of the Faenza squad worked perfectly: a reasonable car, a streamlined team, a reliable technical partner in Red Bull Technology, one driver on a debugging mission and another who simply got in the car and was fast. This year looks slightly different: major regulation changes, no testing during the season and the race-winning driver departed. Still team principal Franz Tost is confident. Small is beautiful seems to be an increasingly popular philosophy in Formula One - and its one Toro Rosso dont have to learn
Q: Franz, what is your verdict on the STR4?
Franz Tost: The car looks fantastic. Red Bull Technology and Adrian Newey have done a great job. After only one test it is difficult to say where we stand performance wise - this we still have to find out. Overall last weeks running was satisfying, even though we had a problem with the front suspension on day one, with only 20 laps of running as we decided to stop for safety reasons. After investigating the problem we were able to give the green light for the rest of the test and we faced no further issue.
Q: It was a late arrival for a 2009 car - will that mean you have to develop it on the Friday of Grand Prix weekends?
FT: Yes, thats exactly what it will mean as there will be no testing during the season to save costs - a decision that was absolutely correct, especially for small teams like us. So the development work is concentrated on Fridays if we want to stick with the in-season test ban.
Q: Many people assume that you can use the data from the Red Bull RB5 as its basically the same chassis. Is that really the fact?
FT: On some occasions it is true, but not everywhere. We have a different engine to Red Bull Racing, we have a different KERS system, which means that the weight distribution is different, and therefore we cannot match all the data, only some. But the main work we have to do by ourselves. It is also a question of the drivers. The drivers gave different requests to set-up the car, so it needs special and specific decisions for each driver and for each car.
Q: Some say KERS could be a big divider this year. Will the field be separated into the haves and have nots?
FT: For sure, at the start of the season because I expect the cars running with KERS to have an advantage, especially in the first lap. I dont know - and this depends on the weight distribution - how the rear tyre degradation will be with and without the KERS system. From our side, we dont expect to start in Melbourne with KERS, but later on we will fit it - as soon as we recognize that we will get a performance advantage not only for the first part of the race but also for the rest of it.
Q: All the cost-cutting initiatives look good, but are they good enough to help the small teams survive?
FT: I must say that FOTA did quite a good job because we will save 50 percent of the engine costs already this year and the test ban will save us another additional 20 to 25 percent from the overall budget. In 2010 further restrictions will apply - from the engine side we will save another 37.5 percent and regarding the gearbox we will save around 60 percent. We are just working out a proposal for how the aerodynamic side can be restricted and I also expect cost savings from this in 2010.
Q: As team principal of one of the smallest teams what would be your ideal cost-cutting structure?
FT: So far everything has been addressed. We have to see it in a realistic way. Formula One and the big teams had quite high budgets which they could run the teams on and we from the smaller teams had to find economical ways to work in Formula One. I think now the manufacturer teams will have to come down with the costs, but that cannot be a solution from one day as they have a huge headcount and it takes time to reduce. I would think that this will be a process over three to four years. Could we be a role model for the future? I dont know, because it is always a question of how efficiently a team works. If you have less people and less money on your side you have to be very careful on how to spend your resources - and so far I think we have done a good job at Toro Rosso.
Q: It took a while before you decided to keep Sebastien Bourdais on board and not take Takuma Sato for 2009. What was the key factor in your decision?
FT: Bourdais was our driver last year and that made him number one on our list, so I wouldnt say that it was a shoot-out between Bourdais and Sato. We started to test with Sato last year in November just to see where he is on the performance side. Bourdais was always somewhat of a fixture, even thought the contract was signed quite late. But it was early enough for the start of the season, so we were not in a hurry and Bourdais always knew that he was our number one choice.
Q: Last year Toro Rosso had a brilliant season - even putting big sister Red Bull Racing in the shade. Can you pull that off again this season?
FT: It will be quite difficult to repeat last years success because to be successful in F1 you need continuity - too many changes are toxic. Sebastian Vettel has left us for Red Bull Racing and it will not be easy to replace him as he showed a fantastic performance. Nevertheless, we will do our best and I am convinced that with this car we will do a proper job. But as became obvious from the times at the last all-team test, the teams are very, very close and we have to push very hard to stay in the midfield. Anything that comes on top will be very welcome, but midfield is what we are aiming at.