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Franz Tost Q&A: Verstappen and Sainz will be evenly matched

24 Feb 2015

For his tenth season as team principal of Toro Rosso, Franz Tost will once again oversee a completely revised line-up as rookies Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz form the youngest driver pairing in Formula One history. In an exclusive interview, Tost discusses working with Red Bull’s latest ‘diamonds’, explains why the concept of running a junior team is still feasible, and reveals Toro Rosso’s ambitious targets for 2015…

Q: Franz, Toro Rosso are starting the season with two rookies - can it get any more difficult?
Franz Tost:
I don’t expect any difficulties, especially regarding the drivers. Generally speaking I am very much looking forward to the start of the new season with Carlos and with Max because I simply expect they will do a very good job. 

Q: You’ve had the opportunity to observe Max and Carlos in both Jerez and Barcelona - what are your first impressions? 
I have quite positive impressions from both of them. Both are much more mature than people maybe would expect. Both have shown very good performance - they are very committed and very motivated. I expect that they will be closely matched - one might sometimes have an advantage in qualifying and the other will maybe be faster in the race, but in the end I think both of them, on the performance side, will be quite equal. 

Q: What about your new car? This time last year you were hoping to finish sixth in the constructors’ standings, but it didn’t work out. What’s the target this year?
The target is to finish in fifth position in the constructors’ championship. I’m convinced that if the car and power unit provide the performance that we expect, we can finish in this position. Also, from the driving side, I don’t expect big difficulties despite them being so-called inexperienced drivers. The team will work very intensively with them, and I hope that we can educate them in a good and special way so that they have a very steep learning curve.

Q: You’ve been at Toro Rosso for some time now. Can you tell us something about the beauty of running a so-called ‘junior team’? Is that concept still feasible?
If you look at the results, I would say yes (it is still feasible). The original plan from Red Bull was - and remains - that Toro Rosso give young drivers from the Red Bull driver pool the possibility to enter F1. So far it’s worked very successfully if you think that Sebastian Vettel came from Toro Rosso, as did Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat. I think with Max and Carlos we have two other diamonds in Red Bull hands. I think if you bring all the factors together, it’s still feasible to go this way.

Q: You must have spent a good amount of time over the winter looking back on 2014. Can you tell us something about the good, the bad and the ugly from your perspective? 
The positive last year was, of course, how well Daniil Kvyat developed himself as a young driver. You could observe how fast he learned and how skilled he is. The bad I would say was our reliability last year. We had problems finishing some races and didn’t finish a couple of them unfortunately. And on the ugly side, it was the noses. They are much more beautiful this year. The cars generally look quite nice this year, I must say. Last year there was a big regulation change and the teams were not so aware about cooling and that kind of thing. Now in the second season they are much more experienced and the packaging of the engine has resulted in a much cleaner shape than last year. Therefore the cars, for me at least, look nicer.

Q: You mentioned Daniil Kvyat there - were you surprised to see him damage his Red Bull’s front wing on his first lap driving for the team in Jerez? 
He took the front wing off, but this can happen. I’ve seen this sort of thing already, from much more experienced drivers - some even crashing on the formation lap to the starting grid. It was a small mistake by Daniil, but he will for sure come up with a good performance during the season and you’ll see at the end of the year that the team will be very happy with him.

Q: Do you think he’ll push Daniel Ricciardo hard this season?
First of all, Daniel is much more experienced and this is a big advantage for him. But during the season Daniil Kvyat will also push Daniel Ricciardo - I’m convinced about this. 

Q: What are your initial thoughts from testing, both in terms of your own performance and that of the other teams?
The result is that Mercedes is still clearly in front, but Ferrari have caught up, and I think also Red Bull have made a big step forward. I hope the championship will not be decided in the middle of the season, but at the last race of 2015 between different teams - not only the Mercedes drivers.

Q: In terms of your own performance, would you say that Renault still seems to be the Achilles heel of Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso?
Renault worked quite hard during the winter months - for example we managed to do 94 laps on the opening day in Barcelona. That was a good number and showed the package was already reliable. I expect that Renault will make another step forward over the next months - then we will see how close the gap is to Mercedes and Ferrari. I think in the end we’ll be there, but of course up to now I think Mercedes have run with a lot of fuel in their car - they haven’t shown their real performance. We’ll probably have to wait two or three races to get a clearer picture of everything. 

Q: And what about the influence of engine guru Mario Illien? He’s working with Renault, is he not?
Yes, he’s involved with the project. I’m convinced Renault will get something out of it because Mario is very experienced and he will, for sure, bring in a positive input. In the end we will see what we bring in at the race track.

Q: When do you expect to get some steps in performance from Renault?
We will have another step forward for the first race, then of course during the season there will come another step. When exactly that will be is difficult to say right now - you must have increased performance on the dyno and increased reliability because we are only allowed to run four engines during the course of the season. This, of course, takes time and we’ll just have to wait. I’m sure that during the season Renault will come up with some upgrades. 

Q: There are fewer teams in the F1 field this year - what will that mean from a sporting perspective and from Toro Rosso’s perspective?
Unfortunately we only have nine teams on the starting grid. Next year Haas will join the Formula One club and then once more we will be ten teams and 20 cars, which is quite a good and successful starting field.