Franz Tost Q&A: Drivers key to Toro Rosso success 15 Aug 2011
The recent Hungaroring weekend witnessed some memorable statistics: Jenson Button won on his 200th F1 start and Nico Rosberg made his 100th Grand Prix appearance. Less well publicised was the fact that Scuderia Toro Rosso also hit the tonne. Team principal Franz Tost paints a very positive picture of those 100 races, even though Toro Rossos purpose has shifted significantly over the last two years. From being an incubator for future Red Bull Racing drivers, they have transformed into a full-blown constructor, albeit still with a strong focus on breeding. The breeding has been good, as the Budapest result showed, with both Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari in the points. Tost talks exclusively to Formula1.com about reaching the happy hundred
Q: Franz, the 100 race mark is probably a good moment to recap the history of Toro Rosso: are you satisfied with where the team is now?
Franz Tost: Yes, 100 races is an impressive milestone. But these 100 races have really flown by and I wonder where all the time has gone! (laughs) I can admit that its been a great time, a good experience and a demanding task. Going back to when it all started, the demands on the team were completely different to what they are now. When we started we were supposed to run cars that were fabricated in the UK and run the team from Faenza (in Italy). Then the rules changed and everybody was supposed to be a constructor and we had to build the infrastructure to build cars on our own. We are still in the process of building up that infrastructure and are facing obstacles every other day. Still, I do enjoy running the team and hope for the future that success will come our way.
Q: How independent are you really?
FT: When it comes to the car, completely. With regards marketing, we do have close cooperation with Red Bull, as we have a joint marketing department. But when it comes to running the team I am the master of my own fate.
Q: Regarding drivers, are you able to fish from the Red Bull talent pool at will?
FT: Well, Red Bull are choosing the drivers from their pool. But that was always the intention and the reason for this team to exist. Red Bull bought this team with the intention to give youngsters a chance to prove themselves and eventually rise to a seat with Red Bull Racing.
Q: When looking back at your career, you are no stranger to helping develop young drivers. One of them was Ralf Schumacher
FT: Indeed, I like to work with young drivers, but I have studied sport science so partly I am just working in my formal training. My ideal scenario would be to work with one already successful youngster from the Red Bull talent pool and one very young guy
Q: so that the one who has already tasted some success acts as a sort of instructor for the real rookie?
FT: Plainly spoken, yes. It is much easier to get down to the technical details with someone with a certain degree of experience. Doing business with two guys with no or very little Formula One experience is quite time intensive and the technical feedback of newcomers will of course never be as good as from someone whos done substantial mileage and set-up work.
Q: Then how do you explain the fact that in his first full season Sebastian Vettel won in a Toro Rosso?
FT: Well, Sebastian came to us with quite a bit of F1 experience, so he was not the complete newcomer. Hed been a test driver with BMW-Sauber and had already done a race where hed got his first point. Then he came to us with a rather unusual level of experience for a Toro Rosso driver, and that showed in his first full season when he won the Italian Grand Prix.
Q: Would you say that youve been growing with him and vice versa?
FT: Absolutely. When Sebastian was with us we did get the car from Red Bull Technology, but we had to build the race team. Now we have the race team, but need to build the car on our own. So however you look at it, in our sixth year we are still in a build-up phase. A team is always growing with its drivers, but it also can go down with its drivers. A driver is a very important factor in the team.
Q: The role of the driver is something that always draws controversy. One saying is that a driver is only as good as his car
FT: but the driver gives crucial inputs. When you look around, the really successful drivers stay with their teams for quite some time because the process of growing together - driver, engineers, car, tyres - all takes time and once youve grown into one single functional unit you want to keep that as long as possible. When it boils down to the sheer facts, for me the driver is the key to success.
Q: Toro Rosso had their biggest success with Sebastian Vettel. Does this mean you automatically search for another Vettel in every youngster that joins you?
FT: There will never be another Sebastian Vettel, just as there will never be another Michael Schumacher or Ayrton Senna. What I think is crucial in the development of a driver from rookie to serious podium contender is that the driver discovers himself. There is no such thing as the unerring talent scout. Sebastian Vettel has become world champion because he has discovered himself - his own capacity and ability. The outside world can only provide the necessary environment, but as I said it is always the driver who makes a teams success.
Q: What about the two guys you have now, Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari? How far along are they in the self-discovery process?
FT: They are still deep in it. They are moving forward - that was clearly visible in the last couple of races, with the last race seeing both of them in the points - so lets wait and see how the second half of the season works out. Then at the end of the year we will sit together with Red Bull to discuss who will sit in our cars in 2012.
Q: Is there a certain timeframe for how long that self-discovery can or should take?
FT: Maximum three years. Or lets put it this way: if you are not sure after three years whether hes going to make it, I would bluntly say forget him, period. Three years - why? Because this is the time a driver needs today in Formula One to develop from a rookie into a calculable factor in the team. There is no testing anymore, so a driver who has made it into F1 faces a completely new world. At best he knows all the European tracks from GP2, but Formula One is so different to anything hes ever experienced. There is the technical aspect, the significantly larger team, the many new overseas tracks, the interaction with the media, the marketing side. All of that you dont learn overnight. And then he has to come to terms with the fact of being nowhere on the grid. Most of these youngsters have been hugely successful in lower series, believing that the front row is their rightful place. Finding out that a Formula One life can be so different is something that is hard to swallow.
Q: There was talk that Jaime was already on his way out because of a lack of success, but in recent races hes bounced back significantly
FT: Ah, Jaime. Hes a good example of what Ive just said, so lets analyze his situation. At the beginning of this season Jaime was not coming to terms with the tyres. He was not able to make an easy switch from the Bridgestones of last year to the Pirellis. There is a significant difference between qualifying and race, with different demands on the driver, and Jaime was a bit slow on the uptake. Then sometimes he thought he could force it and that never works. Now hes overcome that deficit of understanding the tyres and he is firmer in getting his set-up done - and that translated directly into the good results weve seen lately.
Q: If you could choose from all the youngsters - without the Red Bull restraint - who would you put in your two cockpits?
FT: Well, I think Sebastien (Buemi) and Jaime are doing a good job and I am also really looking forward working together with the other Red Bull youngsters, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. Both have done the young drivers days with Toro Rosso last year in Abu Dhabi and Daniel was our third man before he got the opportunity to race for HRT. I expect him to best Liuzzi after not more than three or four races.
Q: These are all undiscovered drivers. If you had the chance to pick from the established talent in the paddock, who would you go for?
FT: My pecking order goes like this: Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Rosberg. Vettel doesnt need much comment - hes got everything inside and outside the car that a driver must have to be champion. Hamilton I really do like. His is the way guys should race in F1 - hes aggressive and, of course, that results in shunts sometimes, but hes got what it takes to put on a good show. Alonso is fiendishly clever, in the car and in team politics, and Rosberg I believe could win the championship when hes got a good car. But it is very unlikely that they would make eyes at Toro Rosso, so when thinking of suitable guys I would pick three, if I may (laughs): Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean. Renault burned Grosjean when they teamed him up with Alonso, but I still believe hes got huge potential.
Q: You know Sebastian Vettel better than most do. The media would like to portray a champion in crisis. What do you think?
FT: Lets put it this way: Formula One is an immensely popular sport, so this attracts not only sport and motorsport media, but also the more mainstream press - and as they lack profound knowledge they tend to write these stories. A real motorsport journalist would never do that. And regarding what happened at Nurburgring - where are we if a fourth place is labelled a failure? You cannot expect that a driver does a season without any mistakes. Two mistakes per season are what you have to concede to any top driver - the rest make many, many more. And how Seb outsmarted Massa in the pits - that was a doozy. Anybody else would have botched it. And who says that he has to win all the time? Many drivers won their championship with one or two wins and the rest was good front-running positions. I think now he should think of bringing the title home, and once it is secured he can go back to brawling. (laughs)
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