Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost believes the Russian is destined for greatness, as he reflects on the team's progress heading into this weekend's race in Barcelona...
Q: Franz, what have you made of your team's first four races? From the outside, impressions seem to be better than actual results. How is it for you?
Franz Tost: I wouldn't say that the actual result is not there because we have scored points - or at least one point - everywhere apart from Bahrain, and that is always the target. Of course it is more favourable scoring multiple points - as many as possible! The team has done a reasonably good job so far, but of course if you analyse the races afterwards you could think ‘Hmm, we could have done a little bit better'. So far we are in line (with expectations) though. We must not forget that we nearly lost the complete winter testing, and that was a big disadvantage for Toro Rosso, especially with our young drivers. We are now catching up step by step with the programme that you normally run during the winter tests, so for this reason we are behind on the technical side - but I am convinced that we will catch up because data is rolling in and we get more and more information about our car. With all the upgrades that we will be bringing over the next couple of races we will have a competitive car on the starting grid. As for our drivers, Jean-Eric [Vergne] finished eighth in Melbourne and Daniil [Kvyat] has done a really good job so far - right now he is the youngest driver to have scored points. So, taking the car and the drivers, we are in line - but of course there is always potential to do better.
Q: One thing seems to be certain: Daniil is a real find. He broke Sebastian Vettel's record as the youngest driver to score points in a Grand Prix - so is he made in the same mould?
FT: Well, these are young drivers from the Red Bull driver pool. When they come to Toro Rosso the chances are evident that they can score points, and then it can easily be that they turn out to be the youngest ever. Daniil managed to do that, which can translate into a bright future.
Q: Has he shown that certain sparkle that you look for in a driver? Of course it is early in the season…
FT: With him you don't need a whole season. He has shown that he is an extraordinarily skilled driver with a very high natural speed. In addition to his passion for motorsport, his interest in the technical side of racing, the fact he asks all the right questions, his discipline and his ability to form his own ideas of how to improve his performance - all combined, these are indications for me that we have a driver who is bound to be successful. If we - the team - provide him with a good car he will finish some races within the top five or six drivers this year.
Q: Has he got the DNA of a future champion?
FT: Yes, because he's shown that already by winning the younger classes - and especially the way he was winning - he has it in his DNA to win races, and championships.
Q: Daniil showed big skills in qualifying…
FT: …qualifying is mainly concentration and driving with discipline. He understood that quite early and quite well, that's why he is showing big performance there. Of course there is still potential to improve - and he is at the beginning of the learning process. Coming into F1 is one thing, but then the crucial question is how and when the curve runs north - and his curve is definitely running north!
Q: In the standings he's matching Jean-Eric so far. Does that prove Daniil is very good, or than Jean-Eric has been very unlucky?
FT: Jean-Eric has been unlucky from the technical side. He is also suffering with 'under-braking' with the kinetic support of the braking process, which is a long way from being optimised by either Toro Rosso or by Renault. We are working on this matter. Jean-Eric is a quite sensible driver and as soon as we have this under control I am convinced that he will show his real potential, because he is a really fast and highly skilled driver.
Q: Toro Rosso were the best Renault-powered team throughout the tests, but have now lost that position to Red Bull. Is that all down to unlimited resources?
FT: There are two reasons. Our philosophy last year was to finish the car as early as possible. Why? Because we said to ourselves that we have one totally inexperienced driver, we have a driver who is a little bit experienced, we have a new engine supplier, we have new regulations - that all means that we should be the first car out on the track. We managed that from our side, but we struggled with the power unit - as we all know - so our plan was totally useless as we couldn't run our tests as originally planned. But we were finished earlier than the other Renault-powered teams, and therefore looked more competitive. The second point is that Red Bull has the best people. They have such an incredible infrastructure that they immediately caught up. For me, it was clear from the beginning that Red Bull would very shortly be the best Renault team. Now we are doing our best to keep as close as possible to the other Renault teams.
Q: Will we see Mercedes dominance throughout the season?
FT: Mercedes did such a fantastic job with their power unit. They are far ahead. If you analyse the races I don't think that they have shown their real potential for a whole race distance - they show it just for a few laps because for them there is no need to show it for longer. Think about when there is a safety car phase - after ten laps they are something like 20 seconds ahead again! That means that they are playing around. Nevertheless Renault has brought a lot of new specs and upgrades [to Barcelona], and we just hope that we are able to close the current big gap. Remember last year the gaps were much smaller - the gap between first and second was marginal, and the third car was just a few tenths behind. Now we have the first two cars, and then a real gap that can be 20 or even 25 seconds. That is too big. We have to catch up to their knowledge of the car. I remember speaking to a Mercedes engineer and he said ‘Ah, we also faced this problem'- but they faced it in June last year and we faced it this January. But with time and skills - and I know they have many skilled people - Renault will catch up and provide us with a very powerful unit for the rest of the season.
Q: Another F1 hopeful from the United States of America has been given approval by the FIA. As one of only three teams not running out of the UK, how difficult do you think Haas's plan to run from the USA will be?
FT: It is difficult to say as I don't know the background story, but I would not like to do that to be honest. It is very complicated to keep everything together and to bring technical talents together. Getting highly-skilled technical people to Italy is one of the main problems for Toro Rosso! These people prefer to stay in England, where the best infrastructure for F1 exists. To compete with this is really difficult, and I know that from experience. But if they want to do it from the US there must be a reason behind that. Logistically I also think that it's a huge task: time in F1 is very decisive. If you lose time, you might lose performance.
Q: Right now Toro Rosso are seventh in the standings. Can you make this position your home?
FT: I would like to make P6 our home! (laughs) That was always the target. But seeing the advantage that the Mercedes-powered teams have, it will be difficult to catch up. Nevertheless the season is long, and at the last race there are double points, so we will concentrate on that - the season is only finished after Abu Dhabi! (laughs)