Franz Tost Q&A: Toro Rosso looking for winners 16 Feb 2012
Franz Tosts task seems to be a largely thankless one. After carefully nurturing young driver talent, the Toro Rosso team principal sees it either leave for the bright lights of sister squad Red Bull Racing or depart the paddock altogether. Either way, Tost has to start all over again. And after the shock exit of both Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari at the end of 2011, the Austrian is once more back to square one with his new line-up of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. He speaks exclusively to Formula1.com
Q: Franz, you have always said that Toro Rosso is a kind of finishing school for young drivers before they head to Red Bull, but were you taken aback by the recent clean sweep when both Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi both lost their drives?
Franz Tost: The clean sweep was decided in mid-December. If my memory serves me well it was December 13. Every year at the end of the season we do an analysis of how things have developed over the past months, with particular focus on the competitiveness of our drivers in terms of qualifying, race and simulator performance. All this data is then put on the table and we discuss its significance. The conclusion was that we had nurtured two drivers over three years and that we probably have other drivers in Red Bulls pool of drivers who could also do a good job. On top of that we werent sure if our current drivers would really be the right stuff for Red Bull Racing, so we decided that Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo should get their chance.
Q: What did Buemi and Alguersuari lack? Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko is quoted as saying that neither of them would have made winners
FT: There is probably some truth in Helmuts assertion. When we speak about the right stuff for Red Bull Racing we are talking about a double world championship-winning team, which means that drivers who get elevated there must have the ability to win races and championships. And it was from that perspective that second thoughts set in when it came to Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari. Toro Rosso is a rookie team - and we will head into the 2012 season with two rookies. I fully support this decision.
Q: What are the strengths of Ricciardo and Vergne?
FT: Thats what we will have to see! To get into Formula One is one thing, but for us the significant thing is how they develop once they are in Formula One. Development means that you can measure their progress over the time they are with Toro Rosso. When I analyse the past year it becomes obvious that Buemi showed good performance at the beginning of the season and was scoring points. But the more the season progressed he was falling a bit behind our expectations with occasionally acceptable results and unfortunately some bad luck with one engine failure, one hydraulic failure and one botched pit stip. Alguersuari by contrast showed weak performance at the beginning of the season. He didnt show anything at all at the first couple of races, which was probably caused by the new tyres but he then bucked up in the second half of the season with some very good results in the final stages. Having said all that it is also clear that neither showed a steady and constant upward trend in their third year and that was what brought us to the conclusion that they werent the kind of winners Red Bull Racing is looking for. Your question, though, was about the new guys. Well, for the moment all that can be said is that they have made it into Formula One. Now lets wait and see how they develop. We, the team, hope that we will be able to give them all the support that they need. But you will have to ask me at the end of the season if they really have what it takes.
Q: Toro Rossos mission must be to find a worthy replacement for veteran Red Bull driver Mark Webber. Which of the new guys has the most potential?
FT: Toro Rossos mission is to nurture young Red Bull talents to make them fit for Red Bull Racing. And if Mark should decide to finish his career then we need to be able to hand them over a driver that weve brought up to the level of being a race winner.
Q: Could that be by the end of this season?
FT: I have no idea. But I doubt it, as the level of Red Bull Racing is extremely high. So my guess is that they will have to wait a little more. So far Mark has not given any hint that he is thinking of retirement.
Q: You said it takes about three years to test the talent of a driver. Will the two new guys have that amount of time?
FT: Well, talents like Senna, Schumacher or Vettel dont grow on trees! That takes time. And I said earlier that a lot depends on how a driver develops. If a driver has the necessary commitment and discipline, and brings innovation to the table, then over the course of 20 races he will be able to become the centre of attention even with a middling team. A glimpse of some talent will elevate a driver above all the others, and Red Bull Racing is only looking for such talents.
Q: How can you train rookies?
FT: The rookie training is a very extensive matter. It starts with the physical preparation: how to set up a training regime, then comes a balanced diet, how to prepare for tests and races, how to avoid or minimize jetlag, and so on and so forth. The next huge learning phase is the race weekend. Number-one spot on this agenda is cooperation with the engineers. But a race weekend is not only about racing, its also about the interaction with the media, sponsor relations and marketing commitments, so an extensive programme has to be managed. Another important issue is how to adapt to a new race track. Beforehand this means intense simulator work and the ability to get an idea about what the data at every different track means. As I just said, its a very intense matter and I hope we will be able to give our two new youngsters the best schooling to let them develop into potential race winners.
Q: How do you say farewell to two youngsters who depart into a rather insecure future?
FT: This is a high-performance sport and departures are a part of the game. Both drivers have to thank Red Bull as otherwise they would never have made it into Formula One. And even now they have it in their own hands to make something out of the chance Red Bull has given them. Well, Buemi is still with Red Bull Racing as their third man. What will happen to Alguersuari? I have no information at the moment but, as I said, thanks to Red Bull they have a very good basis to pursue their careers from. Maybe even in Formula One at another team. Im not saying that they are not fit for Formula One as both have shown substantial talent at some races, but it is not enough for Red Bull Racing. But I could imagine that they could be top drivers somewhere else and have a successful racing career.
Q: 2011 was something of a rollercoaster ride for Toro Rosso. Sometimes you bagged good points and at other times you left the track empty handed. Will 2012 be more consistent?
FT: Sure, you always hope for that. But then there are many reasons why it isnt possible. The team made mistakes in 2011 and drivers made mistakes in 2011, so to get a more consistent performance weve been working very hard over the winter. And of course I hope that the basis of our 2012 is a good one as this is important if we are to have a more consistent season.
Q: Vergne and Ricciardo were both in action at last weeks Jerez test and showed good potential. Who do you think will wow us in 2012?
FT: Both have done extremely well in all the series theyve raced in before entering Formula One and, yes, they showed potential at the test. Daniel, with 11 Formula One races under his belt and frequent Friday drives with us, has an advantage. But in general I would say that this wow-effect is not so easily manageable in a first season. But it definitely has to be delivered in the second season. What I do expect from both is that they deliver solid performances. This means that they have to improve. I dont necessarily mean that they must score points unless weve built a winning car! My guess is that the first four flyaway races will be difficult as neither knows the tracks, but once we come to Europe I expect them to do significantly better. Let me say a final word. I dont have a problem when a driver has a good race and at the next race he has a shunt - thats part of the game. Both drivers will have a crash period but that is part of their development phase. It was the same with Sebastian Vettel. But at some point they have to get their game together - and the question is who will be better at doing that? Lets wait and see.
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