Feature F1 Unlocked
Farewell to Franz: David Tremayne's send-off to Franz Tost after 18 years as an F1 team boss
To some he was one of the largely unknown characters in the F1 paddock. And many who did know him often misunderstood him. Like Sir Jack Brabham, Franz Tost would rarely use two words when none would do. And since you often weren’t sure whether you would receive a surly glance or a cheery grin, it was always fun to try and engineer the latter.
I really like and respect him, just as I really like and respect his equally contrary compatriot and mirror image Helmut Marko. They are both implacable racers, with neither the time nor the inclination to mollycoddle anyone, be they drivers, engineers or media.
Franz was always short on all the lovey-dovey stuff, which suited me just fine, because he is generally a self-effacing fellow who doesn’t need to feed his own ego; who cares more about how effective a new floor will be than engaging with what he sees as the fripperies of modern F1.
That made it easy for people to see him as dour. I prefer to think of him as focused. And if Helmut was the perfect man to oversee Dietrich Mateschitz’s investment in Red Bull, Franz was the ideal counterpart to run the sister Toro Rosso operation, which of course raced for the last time in its AlphaTauri guise and with him at the helm in Abu Dhabi last weekend.
“I started on the 8th of November, 2005, in Faenza, and we had 85 people,” he explained last Friday on an occasion, as Guenther Steiner couldn’t resist observing, when he heard Franz talk “more than in all of the intervening 18 years”.
“It was not so easy at the beginning, but as you know, Dietrich Mateschitz said to me, ‘Look, there are two pillars: you have to first of all use the synergies with Red Bull Technology and, second, to educate the young drivers. They must then come to Red Bull Racing, win races and, if possible, also championships.’
“I thought to myself: ‘Okay, it’s clear what you want, boss.’ And this is how we started.”
Born on January 20, 1956, in Trins, Austria he inevitably tried racing himself and did reasonably well, winning the 1983 Austrian Formula Ford Championship before graduating to Formula 3.
But with the pragmatism that would serve him well, he realised he didn’t have what it takes to go all the way, and after studying sport science and management at the universities in Innsbruck and Vienna, he went to work as team manager for the Walter Lechner Racing School.
In 1993, he joined Willi Weber to run his WTS Formula Three team, and Weber then asked him to manage Ralf Schumacher’s graduation to Japanese F3000. That led him to a job working for BMW in F1 as Track Operations Manager with BMW Williams from 2000, until he received Mateschitz’s invitation.
I discovered what lay beneath Franz’s heartbeat when I interviewed him for my Jochen Rindt book, back in the early years of Toro Rosso. He was still a boy the day that his hero died, on September 5, 1970. I remember when I asked him about Jochen how the mask slipped and his enthusiasm bubbled out all those years later, as if it had happened yesterday.
“He had this special charisma. He was so fast! And his car control was unbelievable. The drifts, and the angle of the wheels. This natural speed and control. Nobody could understand how he did it. Unbelievable!
“I was a kid of 13, 14 years old, and he was simply my hero. I never met him personally, just saw him on the television, driving and doing interviews or whatever. But there was a special atmosphere and a special message in what he was saying. Here was this person who was taking so many risks but so enjoying his racing, with no fear.
“I started reading racing books, like Powerslide. Jochen was my first and only hero. To put that into context, I was half a child still, and no other driver ever made such an impact.
“I went to every Jochen Rindt Show, first in Vienna and then in Essen. It was like Mecca, a must. Seeing the Lotus 72 there was so special, it was like it released a special energy out of me. It was such a special feeling. Seeing those brakeshafts, seeing this wonderful car. No other racing car ever had such an emotional impact for me.
“At school I had this collage on the wall, which featured just pictures of Jochen racing.
“I was totally shocked when I heard that he had been killed. We had a restaurant, and I was in front of the radio when I heard the news. There had been this very bad accident. This can’t be! Never in my life since have I ever felt so shocked.”
For me, that was the boy within the man, the real Franz Tost he chose to show only rarely to the adult world. A pure, old school, racer with a fierce passion for the sport.
Inevitably, everyone wanted to know how he was facing his last hurrah in F1 last weekend, and his response was pure Franz.
“I hope that the new floor works,” he said. “That’s the only thing that’s interesting for me. We bought a new floor and a new diffuser and I hope that we perform well, because another target is to finish on the seventh position in the constructors’ championship, and that’s the only thing that’s interesting.”
As usual, he was competitive to the end – and openly critical of his team’s strategy…
So how did he reflect on the last 18 years?
“It was a very interesting time, I must say. And it worked really well at the beginning. We got all the materials, the cars from Red Bull Technology and maybe it worked a little bit too good, because in 2008, when we won Monza, afterwards, the FIA and the teams changed the regulation.
“They came up with the listed parts, which meant that we had to do nearly everything in-house. We had to design the front wing, the rear wing, the complete bodywork, the diffuser, the floor, and the monocoque. We didn't have the infrastructure for this, which meant we had to find the people for the aerodynamics department, designers, production, quality control and all this kind of stuff. This was a difficult time.
“But it was a challenge, and I must say I liked it. I learned a lot in this period and I would not like to miss it.
“I would say the first victory with Sebastian Vettel was really a highlight, because this was a hard fight. And it came so good together because I remember I was sitting with Gerhard Berger on the pit wall and we knew that it could rain on Saturday and Sunday, this was on Friday.
“And then I said to Gerhard: ‘I don't understand why all the others are not going out.’ It's wet and Monza under wet conditions is not so easy, because a) the surface changes in the different parts of the track and b) at the back of Lesmo 1, Lesmo 2, there is the forest and the water is not just going away.
“And we told our drivers to do as many laps as possible just to get used to the wet track. And then when the qualifying started and the rain increased, I saw some cars going out with the intermediates and I said to Gerhard, ‘Forget them, they are lost.’ And they were lost. And then to win the race, all this together, was really was a highlight, I must say.
“The next biggest step was done in 2018, when we signed the Honda contract, we became this Honda works team. And I think nearly the whole paddock smiled about this. McLaren people came to me and said we are totally crazy to work together with Honda and I said, ‘Gents, wait, we talk in about five years about this.’
“But it didn't take five years, it was much earlier clear that the decision was right. And it was a fantastic cooperation with Honda, I liked it very much. And also a successful one.
“In 2019 we had two podium finishes, if I remember right, one with Dany Kvyat at the Hockenheimring and one with Pierre Gasly in Sao Paulo, he had a good fight against [Lewis] Hamilton, he just stayed ahead a few tenths, something like this.
“And 2020, another big step when Dietrich Mateschitz decided to build up this fashion company, AlphaTauri, and he said now the team will be named Scuderia AlphaTauri, because we have to promote that and we were the ambassador for the brand. It was also exciting and interesting.
“And Pierre Gasly managed to win another time in Monza, which meant this was a really successful time.”
In his time in charge of the team, 17 drivers benefited from his tough love: Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen went on to win races and multiple World Championships with Red Bull, while Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly became winners.
And Alex Albon, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Daniil Kvyat, Liam Lawson, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Scott Speed, Yuki Tsunoda, Jean-Eric Vergne and Nyck de Vries all got their chances, to varying degrees. That’s a record anyone should be proud of.
Asked for advice on how young drivers should prepare for F1 careers, Franz gave a priceless answer in his clipped and candid manner that brooked no argument.
“First of all, you should go karting every day, 24 hours. Then, you do Formula 4… You should start karting at six years. Then forget school and all this nonsense. Just go to Formula 4 when you are 15/16 and then Formula 3, Formula 2, and then we make with you simulator sessions.
“We do then maybe a private test, about 300 or 400 kilometres, so that you get the licence from the FIA. And then you come, if you're skilled enough and show a talent, to the free practice, either here in Abu Dhabi – it’s good here because the weather is very constant – and do your FP1. This is what they all did.”
Next season, as ex-FIA man Peter Bayer and former Ferrari sporting director Laurent Mekies take charge of the team, while Helmut has suggested that Franz will retain a ‘standby consultant’ role should he be needed.
“The extraordinary thing about him is that the two world champions we brought in [Vettel and Verstappen] 'went to school' with him,” Helmut observed.
“The training was so good that they were immediately able to fight for the title at Red Bull Racing. That is a huge credit to him. His leaving hurts; it wasn’t just the 18 years with us; he was in motorsport with many others before that.”
He also said of him: “He is a hard bone with a soft centre.” I thought that summarised perfectly a dedicated character than the F1 paddock will miss.
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