Since the announcement of Mark Webber’s Formula 1 retirement, the media and fans have been speculating on who will replace him at Red Bull Racing next year.
The favourites are Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. Whilst we know that Kimi is off contract at the end of the year, we also know what he can provide: a former world champion who can still reel off race wins, and, one would suggest, in a Red Bull more dominant than his current Lotus, he can win more races.
That’s not the point of this article though, it’s the goings on at Red Bull’s second team, Toro Rosso. Whilst the Red Bull young drivers program is relatively successful with backing championship-winning drivers in feeder categories such as GP2, GP3 and Formula 3, the cream of the crop that rises to the Toro Rosso team have been inconsistent.
Now, in fairness, if we look at it like a AFL or NBA draft pick, not every year will be filled with exceptional talent, but let’s have a look at the past Toro Rosso drivers since inception:
2006: Vitantonio Luizzi and Scott Speed (best result 8th)
2007: Vitantonio Luizzi and Sebastian Vettel (best result 4th)
2008 and 2009: Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Bourdais (best result 1st)
2010 and 2011: Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari (best result 7th)
2012 onwards: Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne (best result 7th)
Now, we have to understand that Toro Rosso is a feeder team, so obviously it’s not going to be a team filled with resources at its disposal to challenge for the title.
But looking at its most exceptional talent to make the step up, Sebastian Vettel, he has won three drivers’ championships. But equally as impressive are the results that he produced at Toro Rosso, one race win, two fourth positions, three fifth positions, two sixth positions.
As we can see, his one and a half seasons with Toro Rosso have garnered better results than the other drivers’ combined best results. To counter any arguments that he had the best car of Toro Rosso’s existence, his stablemates could only produce one sixth and one seventh at best during those years.
It could also be argued that judging from Ricciardo’s previous two race weekends, he is starting to hit his straps.
Moving onto the current crop, much has been said about Alguersuari, Ricciardo and Vergne when they came into the premier category. They all have British Formula 3 championships in common, Alguersuari winning in 2008, Ricciardo in 2009 and Vergne in 2010.
All three have been touted as the next big thing, Jaime being the youngest winner at 18 years of age, Ricciardo thrust into the spotlight at the annual season-end young drivers’ test day at Abu Dhabi, setting the fastest lap time, staggeringly 1.3 seconds quicker than Vettel’s qualifying lap a week before.
The question is then put into the spotlight: with one seat available next year at Red Bull, is the Toro Rosso team and its program relevant if Red Bull decide to take on board Raikonnen, the oldest driver in 2014?
And let’s say they do take on board one of the current Toro Rosso drivers, Vettel is only 25, Ricciardo 24 and Vergne is 23. Judging by the longevity of the previous drivers who have driven for Red Bull, when will the next seat open at Red Bull? Five years? Ten years?
With the current Toro Rosso team turning over drivers every two years, when is the next gig available? Do they give prospective drivers two years and then allow other F1 teams snap them up?
Is it money well spent on young drivers?