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Exclusive Franz Tost Q&A: Unreliability has cost Toro Rosso

04 Aug 2015

Armed with the capable STR10, Toro Rosso rookies Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz were two of the stand-out performers in the first half of the season, and yet the Italian team sat seventh in the constructors’ standings heading into the summer break. In an exclusive interview, Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost discusses, amongst other things, why the team are currently coming up short on his pre-season target of fifth…

Q: Franz, the impression is that Toro Rosso is having the time of its life: you have two super-talented drivers and a car good enough to raise eyebrows at every race. But then when you glance at the standings things look a bit different. Can you explain that situation from your point of view?

Franz Tost: Ha, if we were having the time of our life we would finish a race on the podium - one and two! We are quite a bit off from that ‘time of our life’ situation. Yes, we do have a good car, we have two fast drivers and we have a team that is doing a reasonable job - but our reliability is simply not good enough. Yes, Max’s (Verstappen) result in Budapest was fantastic - but we should not forget that we’ve had ten races so far and that should ideally mean that we’ve seen the chequered flag 20 times. But we’ve only seen it eleven times. That is not a good enough percentage. You cannot expect to talk from a successful operation if you do not finish a race nine times. We are seventh in the constructors championship because we simply lost too many points.

Q: Often the Toro Rosso car has looked better than the stable mate Red Bull car - at least in qualifying. Then in the race various ‘things’ have happened. What is the crux in the race?

FT: Reliability. Many times we’ve had problems with the drive train - but not only that. The team has also made mistakes. The race in Silverstone saw a mechanical failure on the car - and that one went on us! So we have to improve our processes on the operation side. We have to work with more discipline - and if we get that right we will eventually score more points.

Q: But Toro Rosso has a good car…

FT: Yes, we do have a good car. The team around James Key have done a fantastic job - now it is on us to get everything together, to score the points that we deserve. But to score points you must see the chequered flag!

Q: Is it a better car than the Red Bull?

FT: I don’t know if it is a better car than the Red Bull because Red Bull sits in fourth position in the constructors’ championship and we in seventh! Let me say this: the Toro Rosso is a very competitive car.

Q: James Key is one of the leading technical people in the paddock. Doesn’t this fact create an appetite from other teams to get him?

FT: Of course he is on the radar of some other teams. But fortunately he has a contract with us - and I hope he will respect this contract! Why should he want to go to another team if he can have a good future at Toro Rosso? We are so far not on the limit with the team - we will further improve our performance. Of course success is never the result of a single individual - but there is always one person who has got everything under control, and James has built up a really strong technical team around him. So I hope he will stay with us to supervise his group of people to bag the success he and his team deserve in the future.

Q: It obviously takes some time for a designer or technical director to become top of their field - we have seen that with Adrian Newey. What’s your guess how long?

FT: It can take years. F1 is changing so fast that probably at the start of your career you are always half a step behind. It takes time to get ahead of the game as so many aspects play a role: the driving style of your drivers, the technical change, the philosophy change - this learning process is never finished. For the technical director it all depends on how fast he can build up his different departments. We are talking about the aero department, the design department, the vehicle performance department and the race engineering department. To find the perfect match of man and position is one of the key topics - and that takes time. And as everybody makes mistakes, sometimes if the designer makes a mistake the season is finished almost at the start. It is the time between May to July where the philosophy of the design for next year’s car is fixed - and if there is one wrong step, next year’s car might be lost!

Q: When you look at the history of top designers in F1, one could say that a designer is only good until the next set of regulation changes…

FT: That depends! It depends how much a designer has been involved in the regulation changes. It is sometimes the case that a designer has special ideas and then want the regulation change to go in that direction where they think that they’ll have an advantage. That is also part of the game! (laughs)

Q: Surely we’re not talking about lobbying for certain regulation changes?

FT: Oh, no! Never thought about that! (laughs)

Q: Half the season is gone, so your picture of your two drivers - Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz - must be pretty clear now…

FT: Very clear, and I have to say I am more than satisfied. Both have proven that they deserve to be in F1. Mistakes and spins are part of the education process, so that is all forgiven. If you want to go to the limit you can only find it when you spin or crash.

Q: Which of the two do you see having the better career chance? Can you already see that? In the past Toro Rosso has let go some promising youngsters go like Jaime Alguersuari and Jean-Eric Vergne…

FT: The learning process is quite important and if these two drivers continue with the gradient of their learning curve then both of them - if the environment is correct - can win races. Both are highly skilled and committed. The rest I will keep to myself.

Q: Renault, it seems, are in the mood for shopping. The French manufacturer has visited several teams - including Toro Rosso - but the rumour right now is that they want to buy back Lotus - the team they sold some years ago. What do you make off all that - and has it any impact on Toro Rosso?

FT: I can only say what happened in the last months in connection with Renault and Toro Rosso. Yes, they have visited us in Faenza and Bicester but in the last weeks it has been quiet so I assume that they have decided to buy another team. How that would influence Toro Rosso we have to see. We have to wait for Renaults move and announcement. Then we have to discuss a program that fits the requests and needs of Toro Rosso.

Q: When you look at the proposed rule changes for 2017, it’s a bit like ‘back to the future’…

FT: Yes, the cars will be wider, the cars will be faster and louder - all things that we had in the past. But the power unit makes it a completely different matter. So it will be something new and I hope it will help us again to get positive critics. Most of the negative criticism towards F1 we’ve seen lately is, in my opinion, not justified as the power train is unique and if F1 wants to stay the peak of motorsport we have to introduce new technologies. We have to see that we get more parity with the power trains because the driver spread across the teams is prone for fantastic fights - and fights are what fans want to see. Mercedes with Hamilton and Rosberg have two absolute top drivers - as does Ferrari with Vettel and Raikkonen and McLaren with Alonso and Button. And Williams and Red Bull are also very strong on the driver side. If we would have more parity we would have five teams that could fight for the championship - that would make fans jump from their seats!

Q: The goal was to finish fifth in the constructors’ standings. It’s mid-season and right now Toro Rosso are in P7, but only eight points behind P5…

FT: It all depends on us! We had a fantastic race in Budapest - with one car. Imagine if we get two cars in the points? We have to work with more discipline - and hopefully we get this right in the second half of the season.

Q: So the P5 ambition has not been abandoned?

FT: Never.