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Franz Tost Q&A: Four drivers have shot at 2015 Toro Rosso seat

31 Oct 2014

Back in August Toro Rosso announced that Max Verstappen would drive for them in 2015, but as yet there’s been no official announcement about who will partner the Dutch teenager. During an exclusive interview in the Austin paddock, we asked team principal Franz Tost if he could shed any light on the situation…

Q: Franz, the Austin paddock is full of rumours about who will be sitting in the remaining free cockpits in 2015. What is the situation at Toro Rosso? How likely is it that you will go into the 2015 season with two rookies?

Franz Tost: Everything is still open. Nothing is decided yet. Red Bull will make a decision within the next weeks and then we will know whether we will head into the 2015 season with two rookies or with one experienced driver and one rookie.

Q: Would the decision about Jean-Eric Vergne have been different had you known sooner that Sebastian Vettel would be leaving Red Bull?

FT: That is a hypothetical question…

Q: …but you have always had a high opinion about him and his skills…

FT: I am still convinced that Jean-Eric can do a very good job in Formula One if he gets a competitive car. He has shown this a couple of times and I personally would like to continue with him - but we have to wait to see what Red Bull decides.

Q: It seemed at one stage that it was certain that Jean-Eric would leave Toro Rosso, now it doesn’t seem so final…

FT: …the situation is still open. I think the drivers that are shortlisted for Toro Rosso are: Jean-Eric, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly and Alex Lynn. All four are Red Bull drivers and it will definitely be a Red Bull driver.

Q: When do you expect an announcement?

FT: It will be close to Abu Dhabi - the week after Abu Dhabi. We have the luxury of time - there is no hurry.

Q: Will the Abu Dhabi test days be the final decisive factor?

FT: Ah, Abu Dhabi is no big deal in these considerations. Max Verstappen will be doing the Abu Dhabi test alone. He will be doing both days in the car. That is very important, as he will get a lot of mileage in those two days to learn about the car and the team and to work with the engineers.

Q: If Max does both days of the Abu Dhabi test, doesn’t that suggest that there’s already a preliminary decision to put an experienced driver in the other cockpit?

FT: I don’t know yet. In Melbourne we will know how that all worked!

Q: But isn’t it a massive indication that you will opt for an experienced driver? If Max is now running Friday mornings and both days in Abu Dhabi how will it be possible to throw in a completely inexperienced rookie in the second car?

FT: Ah, that Max would get that heavy mileage was decided quite some time ago as we have to give him the chance to get used to the car, the team and all that goes with it.

Q: There is a saying: ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’. Is that so?

FT: The main focus is: he (Verstappen) is good enough! We don’t look so much at the age - it’s not a real decisive factor. Decisive is his relationship with the right pedal! That is decisive!

Q: What will it mean for the team should you head into next season with two rookies?

FT: That would not be an easy task. F1 has become fairly complicated and normally you need a reference - especially with the new car that we will have next year - and with two rookies you don’t have that reference. To sort out problems it is helpful to have the feedback of an experienced driver. But we have also proven in the past that we can do it with two rookies. So I am open to anything.

Q: But the cars were easier to understand back then…

FT: Yes, and that is why I would prefer an experienced guy in the second cockpit alongside Max.

Q: Vettel and Ferrari: will that work?

FT: Why not? It will take time as it is not an easy task, but Sebastian is a four-time champion and a very experienced driver and he will bring in some new motivation to the team. It will work - not immediately, but there is the possibility for success.

Q: Michael Schumacher’s former manager Willi Weber has suggested that Vettel is perhaps too soft to handle the Maranello-based squad. How many ‘elbows’ do you see in Seb’s personality? How much political skill does he have?

FT: I would say that they underestimate Sebastian when they say these things. No driver wins four titles by being an ingenuous sheep. He knows perfectly well when to use his elbows! He is a very clever driver with a good understanding of how a team works. He also understands different group dynamics and processes. Seb will bring the team forward if the engineers on his side go in the right directions.

Q: But how good is he politically? We understand that Red Bull is a rather apolitical team…

FT: Who said that? Yes, yes. Maybe someone should have a chat with Mark Webber…

Q: Helmut Marko sees Max Verstappen as being from the same mould as Ayrton Senna. Senna was said to be absolutely ruthless in the cockpit. Is that what you also see in Max?

FT: I generally don’t compare drivers with others. Let’s wait to see how Max will develop. Drivers who win championships must be selfish, ruthless and egotistical. This is what winners are like. So I always tell people: ‘please bring me ‘bastards’ for my cockpits!’ (laughs)

Q: If nothing dramatic happens, Toro Rosso will end the season in P7 in the constructors’ championship - one place up from last year. Had you hoped for more?

FT: Yes, clearly. I expected to finish the season in P6. But we didn’t have the chance against the various Mercedes-powered teams. We lost P6 already in the winter tests when we were almost not running at all. Nevertheless, we’ve been able to score points at nearly all the races - but clearly the target was P6.