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Franz Tost Q&A: Teething problems to be expected

29 Jan 2014

Compared to some of their rivals, Toro Rosso had a relatively productive first day in Jerez on Tuesday, completing a whole 15 laps of the Spanish circuit. Team principal Franz Tost insists the limited running was to be expected given the huge technical differences between the 2013 and 2014 cars. Tost, whose team are also having to cope with the move to a new engine supplier, believes the teething problems will quickly be a thing of the past, as he explained in an exclusive interview with…

Q: Franz, the first day was so quiet. One was very lucky seeing a car on the track. Is that a foretaste of what is coming this season?

Franz Tost: I honestly hope not! I am pretty optimistic that in the course of these four test days the teams will get things under control and that you will see more cars out on the track. What we’ve seen are teething problems - probably more than in ‘normal’ years, but Formula One is always able to overcome them. To be honest, I expected troubles on day one. For us it was not too bad - we did the third most laps - but for some others it was a pretty nasty day. But that soon will all be history.

Q: Toro Rosso is not a team with financial difficulties, but having to invest all that money in the 2014 campaign must hurt. Is it worth it?

FT: It always comes with a huge question mark when you change a successful format - but then you have to think that Formula One is the peak of motorsport and with these changes it will manifest this leading role even more. We are struggling right now because we are confronted with completely new regulations, a completely new power unit, which is the correct way for the future. It is a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine with six cylinders, which means saving a lot of fuel compared to the V8 engine. V8 is old technology and at one point Formula One had to make that change. Additionally to the turbo engine, we will be running with a double energy recovery system: we have the kinetic energy recovery system and we have the heat energy recovery system. Having said that, the reason for so few cars running out on day one was the ‘communication’ between all the systems in the car - that is quite a difficult exercise. Communication glitches between humans tend to bring troubles and it is no different with sophisticated technology. (laughs) But we will solve that ‘speechlessness’ and then I guarantee that in three weeks’ time we will have a fantastic power unit and then Formula One is once more way ahead of any other racing series. This is such a future-oriented technology, car manufacturers who are not in F1 right now will look at it, as I am convinced that this knowledge can be transferred to future road cars.

Q: What kind of driver does that new technology need? Probably not the fastest one…

FT: It will always be the fastest driver who will be in front. That will never change. But my guess is that drivers have to be a bit more disciplined because there might be situations in the race where he has to hold back to save fuel, but then has to be able to go all in again towards the end of the race. The same goes for qualifying. We will see more strategic races - the saying that F1 is a team sport will take on a deeper meaning! (laughs) Driver and team have to find the best possible correlation between fuel consumption and energy systems in combination with the tyre usage - and the team and driver who are doing the best job will be in front.

Q: So the driver-pit wall relationship will be key?

FT: Yes. It will be much more decisive than ever before - that means the teamwork. To be more precise, the engineering work - in preparation for the race - and the management of the race will separate the winners from the losers.

Q: Having these costs in mind, are you surprised that all the teams that were racing in 2013 are still around?

FT: It’s not for me to speak about other teams as there have been many rumours lately. I only can talk from our side. Toro Rosso has a reasonably good budget for the season, but whether we will stay within that budget or not, I don’t know yet. You never know about unforeseeable troubles coming your way.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge: coming up with the funds, or with a reasonable interpretation of the new rules?

FT: The interpretation of the rules is key, as it is the key to funds. What is interesting to see is that if you look at all the cars that are here, the rules do allow different interpretations. Take the noses - I know that so much has been said about them being ugly, but the deeper truth is that there must be a philosophy behind each and every design and it will be interesting to see after a few races which design philosophy will be the most successful and efficient. From our design process I know how tricky these new rules are - whether to put the engine further forward or backward - this in correlation with the centre of gravity - and on top of that aerodynamics. All that will make for a nail-biting season, no matter many so-called ‘experts’ say.

Q: Did Toro Rosso play it risky or conservative?

FT: We went conservative. At that stage you can’t play it risky because if you get it wrong you are lost. We’ve come up with a solution that keeps us on the safe side with a number of options to ‘go risky’ once we know that we’ve got it right with the basic concept. The good news is that I don’t see anything on our car that makes me think that we’ve got it totally wrong. That means a lot these days! (laughs)

Q: With Renault, Toro Rosso has a new engine supplier. How did that switch go?

FT: So far very good - even if it was not the easiest time to switch. But Renault has such a strong history in F1 that there was no issue at all and I am really positive about the cooperation.

Q: Driver line-up could play a big role this year. We have Ferrari with two hard-headed drivers - a partnership potentially difficult to control; we have Red Bull with only one top dog; McLaren with a rookie in the second seat; and Lotus with two hard-to-judge men. Does that make Mercedes the logical frontrunner?

FT: Drivers can make a difference, but this year all will depend on the car. Yes, Mercedes has a very strong driver line-up with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, but don’t underestimate Red Bull. Then there is Ferrari - the only team with two world champions in their cars. Regardless, the decisive factor will be the performance of the car. All the drivers in the top teams are able to win races and championships if it is in their cars and in their team.

Q: What about the Toro Rosso line-up? Jean-Eric Vergne heading into his third year, while Daniil Kvyat is a rookie. Where do you see that heading?

FT: First and foremost, I hope that our car delivers. Jean-Eric is an experienced driver by now and when the car performs he will show really good performance. He is a really highly skilled driver. With Daniil we’ve picked the best of what was available. He is by far the best. He is very strong in his head and here he will find the perfect environment to grow. I hope that he grows.

Q: From the glimpses we have seen in this first test, what sort of season lies ahead? Will we see failing power units, huge numbers of DNF’s at every race - and when will it stabilize?

FT: F1 engineers are top class, so all the teething problems will be under control shortly. I’d even go so far as to say that we will see a great race in Australia. And engine blow-ups? Who can afford engine blow-ups? Especially at the first few races. You are only allowed to have five engines, so if you have a blown engine after 300 or 400 kilometres, how do you plan to survive the next race with that engine when you are not allowed to change engines all the time? So I don’t expect these kinds of problems - at least not at the beginning. What I did expect was to see problems at this Jerez test. I told my guys that we should have had a secret test - without media - because I knew that we would not run so much and that the media would make unjustified stories out of it. Basically what we saw on the first day were software problems between the different systems. You can only solve them by running on the track, so it is good that we are here now - though preferably without everyone staring at the lap times.