Toro Rosso a victim of its own success

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert

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    Formula One comprises a grid of ten colourful and distinctive teams, but none is more unusual than Toro Rosso.

    Like any team, Toro Rosso competes – it competes to win on the track, to win over staff from other teams, to win sponsors – but it does so not for victory itself; rather, it exists to sustain an environment of competitiveness for the sake of its drivers.

    Toro Rosso’s principal reason for racing is to foster Red Bull Junior Team drivers in their transition into Formula One and, eventually, the Red Bull Racing senior team.

    All of Red Bull Racing’s drivers bar three have arrived via the Toro Rosso route, and in particular the previous three season proved a golden age for Red Bull’s development pipeline.

    The departure of Mark Webber and then Sebastian Vettel in 2013 and 2014 allowed the taps to be fully opened for the first time in the program’s history, with Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat and then Max Verstappen flowing through to the senior team.

    Ricciardo and Verstappen’s successes vindicated Red Bull’s enormous investment in its drivers and appeared to illustrate Toro Rosso as an optimally functioning component of the system between 2014 and 2016 – but in 2017 the gears have ground to a halt.

    When historically pressure inside Toro Rosso is applied only onto the driver – no driver has reached a fourth season with the team; even talented youngsters are turfed in favour of new rookies – this season the burden of supersession is absent.

    Indeed, the pressure seems to apply in reverse, with the team keen to hold onto its drivers for the foreseeable future.

    Daniil Kvyat’s case is curious given the Russian remains an inconsistent force in Formula One – this weekend in Britain he crashed into teammate Carlos Sainz, effectively ending the team’s weekend on the spot – yet his contract is likely to be extended into 2018.

    But Sainz’s tenure at the team is more unusual still. Now in his third consecutive season – the equal longest stint any driver has served in Faenza – the obviously talented 22-year-old, rated almost universally as potential title-winner, is facing the prospect of stagnation at a team without the resources to match his abilities.

    “I’m definitely ready to take a step forward in my career,” he said at the Austrian Grand Prix.

    “My target number one is to be with Red Bull next year and start fighting for podiums or wins – if that doesn’t happen, obviously a fourth year at Toro Rosso is unlikely, so I’m not going to close the door to any opportunity.”

    Implicit in Sainz’s statement is that both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are contracted to Red Bull Racing next season, meaning only a non-Red Bull team can offer him the step forward he craves.

    The management slap down was swift.

    “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” Helmut Marko told Sky Sports F1. “It was [Red Bull co-founder] Mr Mateschitz and I who pushed Sainz into Toro Rosso; nobody else would give him a chance.”

    Toro Rosso team principal called for “loyalty”.

    “Why should Red Bull give him away now to any other opponent when they educated him to quite a high level?” he replied.

    There seems a fundamental disconnect between the team’s position on Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat, two established drivers, and the ethos of the team, which is to blood new talent.

    In part this is insurance against either Verstappen or Ricciardo defecting, a la Vettel, if the senior team can’t rediscover its race-winning mojo, but there is more problematic element to the dilemma.

    In truth, the Red Bull Junior Team is no longer delivering.

    The program today comprises five mostly inexperienced young drivers, only two of whom are 18 years of age or older.

    Of those two, Pierre Gasly, as the reigning GP2 champion, is the only F1-ready driver, yet Red Bull opted to farm him out to Japan’s Super Formula series for 2017, seemingly because his title victory wasn’t convincing enough to warrant Toro Rosso promotion.

    Given the team’s apparent preference to maintain its current drivers, he has no obvious route to F1.

    Put simply, Red Bull doesn’t seem to have faith that its program is delivering F1-calibre drivers.

    While often criticised for wasting talent by throwing them out of Formula One without a lifeline, ironically in this case the opposite is true: developing Sainz to a high standard but keeping him at Toro Rosso risks stifling his career, wasting that investment anyway with an ‘if we can’t have him, no-one can’ attitude.

    Only with a flowing pipeline of junior drivers can Red Bull’s route to F1 function efficiently; without it the Toro Rosso concept collapses, in the process squandering developed drivers in a team designed for rookies and barring junior champions from reaching the pinnacle of motorsport.

    Michael Lamonato
    Michael Lamonato

    Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem more interested in the time he was sick in a kart — but don't ask about that, follow him on Twitter instead @MichaelLamonato.

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    The Crowd Says (11)

    • July 18th 2017 @ 9:56am
      spruce moose said | July 18th 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      “The departure of Mark Webber and then Sebastian Vettel in 2013 and 2014 allowed the taps to be fully opened…”

      Just Mark Webber.

      Vettel was a product of the system

      • Columnist

        July 18th 2017 @ 7:11pm
        Michael Lamonato said | July 18th 2017 @ 7:11pm | ! Report

        Yes, but Vettel’s move to Ferrari allowed Carlos Sainz into Toro Rosso because Daniil Kvyat got the unexpected promotion to Red Bull Racing — it opened a space for another Red Bull junior into Formula One is what I mean, with three debutants in two seasons.

    • July 18th 2017 @ 3:51pm
      steve said | July 18th 2017 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

      Considering that Max Verstappen is earmarked as Red Bull’s number one driver, though on track race results don’t back this up as Daniel Ricciardo is clearly delivering the better results in a car that, ironically, suits Max Verstappen’s style more than his own, the ideal scenario for Red Bull and the powers that be in Christian Horner, Helmut Marko and Mateschitz is to let Ricciardo leave and help him land Kimi’s Ferrari seat next season and promote Carlos Sainz to the main Red Bull team, leaving his Torro Rosso seat for Pierre Gasly next season.

      I really don’t know what the likelihood of Red Bull letting Daniel Ricciardo move on next season is or what his chances of landing Kimi’s Ferrari seat are, especially with the talk of Vettel wanting him around for another season as part of his newly offered 3 year deal, but gee Daniel really needs a chance in a car capable of winning races and genuinely competing for a drivers title. Unless a seat opens up at Mercedes or Ferrari next year he’s better off seeing out his contract with Red Bull, as a move anywhere else simply makes him an also ran, mid pack finisher.

      Alternatively, the recent talk is Carlos Sainz taking Jolyon Palmer’s Renault drive, though Im not sure why Red Bull would allow a talent like Sainz to move on when they can easily make him Max’ s number two. As far as Daniil Kvyat goes, I reckon there is a pretty good chance he himself wont have a seat at Torro Rosso next season, the guy really isn’t doing anything at all to enhance his reputation amongst the other F! drivers. IMO, there is a pretty good chance that both their seats will be vacant next year. Which is good news for the likes of Gasly and the other Red Bull young drivers. We will see soon enough I guess.

      • Columnist

        July 19th 2017 @ 4:16am
        Michael Lamonato said | July 19th 2017 @ 4:16am | ! Report

        Thanks for the comment Steve!

        I disagree that Max is marked as the number-one driver. Red Bull likes him a great deal because his story is marketable and his home fan base us obviously huge, but Daniel is also very popular internally, and for obvious reasons.

        For this reason I don’t think Daniel leaving is any ideal scenario for the team — after all, the line-up is working, with both drivers delivering at their maximum, which is the perfect scenario. Daniel wouldn’t be so keen to leave either, given Red Bull Racing is already a race-winner and is likely to recover from its slow start to the year sooner rather than later.

        It’s far more likely Sainz, aided by his father, will find a seat elsewhere next year, but even this is far from certain — indeed Kvyat is reportedly having another year added to his deal. I couldn’t see the Russian going anywhere else, anyway. All in all, Red Bull’s ideal position seems to be the status quo for 2018.

        • July 19th 2017 @ 2:24pm
          steve said | July 19th 2017 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

          Michael, I don’t disagree that Daniel is popular internally and sure, Daniel and Max are working really well together, and while Daniel took out the race in Baku, I’m not really certain we can or should be calling Red Bull a genuine race winning team at the moment, where they are still clearly behind Mercedes and Ferrari for outright pace, Red Bull currently need the other two teams coming unstuck to be in with a genuine chance of winning on any given race weekend. Outside of the teams monumental balls up of a pit stop where Daniel should have won Monaco, when he was clearly the fastest car all weekend,

          I don’t know if a 2018 status quo for drivers does much for Red Bull or Torro Rosso or their young drivers programme to be honest being that they already had to shuffle Gasly off to Japan. I don’t see that Kvyat in particular has performed well enough that they would want to keep him around, though the cynic in me says that if he wasn’t Russian or there wasn’t a Russian Grand Prix he’d be shown the door.

          I’m not sure Carlos Sainz is going to want to continue to stick around at Torro Rosso either for much longer either without a promotion to the main Red Bull team. Though maybe a loan to the improving Renault works team next season may go a little way to smoothing over some of the cracks between Red Bull and Renault. Renault get a very good young driver to pair with Hulkenberg and Torro Rosso has a seat opening in 2018 for Pierre Gasly. Anyway, we will see soon enough how it all plays out.

          • Columnist

            July 19th 2017 @ 4:55pm
            Michael Lamonato said | July 19th 2017 @ 4:55pm | ! Report

            Red Bull at the moment isn’t a regular race winner, but it almost certainly will be. The improvement from the start of the year to now has been immense, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the car competing for wins on merit by the end of the season on non-power circuits. Given this, it wouldn’t be wise for either Daniel or Max to abandon ship — Fernando Alonso has taken that approach during his career, and it’s won him nothing. RBR is big a enough team to bounce back in time.

            I also don’t believe status quo does anything for the junior programme, as I wrote in the column. It’s contrary to the entire Toro Rosso philosophy, but that’s the point — it seems there’s insufficient faith in their development drivers to promote any of them. Kvyat is reportedly set off a contract extension, as I mentioned, which I think is a telling sign.

            Carlos Sainz clearly doesn’t want to stay at Toro Rosso, yes, but he has little choice — the team has exercised its option to keep him in 2018, it says. Renault has long been interested, but that Red Bull/Renault relationship seems to frosty to negotiate some sort today trade, it seems. Contracts can always be broken, but we’ll see.

    • July 18th 2017 @ 5:50pm
      Simoc said | July 18th 2017 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

      Sainz was equally at fault at fault in the crash (though I missed the inquiry result). It was pretty silly leaving him nowhere to go when obviously he’s coming back on to the track regardless because there are no other options.

      Sainz had the opportunity to go to Renault apparently but declined it. There will be vacancies next season for sure and though Kvyat seems to have got his speed back he doesn’t appeal as a title contender because of his inconsistency.

      Williams need a number one driver and Renault a number two. McLaren need a faster car and Sauber need both faster cars and faster drivers. And so it goes on.

      • Columnist

        July 19th 2017 @ 4:23am
        Michael Lamonato said | July 19th 2017 @ 4:23am | ! Report

        Thanks for the message, mate, but I’ve gotta disagree on the crash — Sainz left loads of room to his left before and after Kvyat went off; the problem was that Kvyat lost control of his car rejoining the track. He was penalised for this specific offence.

        It was less Sainz turning down the offer than Toro Rosso taking up his option for another year. The Red Bull/Renault relationship has been frosty for a while, so it was always going to be difficult for Enstone to snap him up.

        There are lots of interesting parts to this year’s driver market, but a lot of it hinges on Raikkonen staying or going, Sauber’s engine deal, and Robert Kubica. It should all start to unfold in August and September, I think.

    • July 19th 2017 @ 6:42pm
      Dexter The Hamster said | July 19th 2017 @ 6:42pm | ! Report

      Michael, think you might have nailed it when suggesting that RBR are keeping the Toro Rosso lads in the team as insurance. While I find it unlikely, there is always a possibility of Danny Ric or Max finding a seat at Ferrari or Merc next year, and RBR would be seen to be caught with their pants down if they let Danny K and Carlos Jr leave this year. If they let Carlos sign with Renault, and told Kyvat to pack his bags, what would they do if caught on the hop next year??

      Anyway, I know we are probably not supposed to love the silly season, but personally, its what keeps me pumped for the sport. What other sport provides 2 hours of action every fortnight, yet provides drama, intrigue, backstabbing and conjecture to last a full year. Its truly “The Bold And The Beautiful” of the sporting world!!!!

      • Columnist

        July 20th 2017 @ 6:54pm
        Michael Lamonato said | July 20th 2017 @ 6:54pm | ! Report

        Ha, it certainly is a drama! I guess that’s the sort of exciting part about having some teams performing better than others — drivers have to navigate their way to the best ones at the right time to be successful. Certainly keeps us guessing! Thanks for the comment, mate.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 21st 2017 @ 2:28pm
      Jamie Mills said | July 21st 2017 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

      Nice article Michael. I agree with all your points. Personally, I’d like to see Sainz in a more competitive car. Also, I always enjoy watching the GP2/F2 champions progress through to F1. I think something’s gotta give at Red Bull. If it remains the same, what happens with Gasly? In my opinion they would be stifling not only Sainz’s career, but Gasly’s too, and therefore their whole junior programme.

      If they manage to hold onto Sainz, they need to promote Gasly and do away with Kvyat. If Sainz gets his chance elsewhere, Gasly needs to be promoted alongside Kvyat, who would at least provide a good comparison for the would-be rookie. Status quo would represent a step backwards for me, at least from Toro Rosso down.

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