But the Shanghai high was a one-off in a largely uncompetitive season blighted by unreliability, accidents and strife within the team.
For Toro Rosso, 2007 was about getting to grips with a difficult car and starting from scratch with its driver line-up in an effort to become competitive.
Young charges dropped
Whatever your opinion of Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed – Toro Rosso’s drivers at the beginning of the year – you had to feel some sympathy for them as the season unfolded.
Particularly Speed who, although he really didn’t justify his place in F1, was by no means hopeless and did not deserve the shabby treatment he got from the team. He was only confirmed at the 11th hour before the season opener, and then dumped halfway through the season after another botched effort by himself and the team which apparently led to boss Franz Tost striking him.
Liuzzi was usually quicker than Speed, but the American showed flashes of promise particularly at Monte-Carlo where he ascended from 18th to ninth.
But although the Italian got to see the season out, he did so in the knowledge that he would not be in the team next year. Toro Rosso’s affections had transferred to Sebastian Vettel, who joined the team in Speed’s place.
Next year Vettel will be the only driver in either of Red Bull’s team to have been backed by the company’s wide-reaching youth talent programme in his junior career. Liuzzi joins the ranks of drivers whose F1 careers Red Bull have given up on, including Christian Klien and, of course, Speed.
Liuzzi though remains highly rated by several people ‘in the know’ who point to his phenomenal success in karting (where he brushed aside the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg) and dominant F3000 title victory in 2004, and draw the conclusion that Toro Rosso failed to extract the maximum from Liuzzi. Given the wider Red Bull outfit’s track record for nurturing youth talent and you have to suspect they might have a point.
Struggling with STR2
The other thing Toro Rosso failed to get the most of – for the majority of the season – was the car. The STR2 was plainly the same as Red Bull’s RB3, apart from the Ferrari engine instead of a Renault, and was sired by Adrian Newey at Red Bull Technologies.
So why did Toro Rosso end up with a third as many points as Red Bull?
They received their chassis only very late. Their unfamiliarity with it clearly cost them as they, like Red Bull, struggled with unreliability.
As a result their drivers frequently hovered around the bottom of the grid and inevitably got caught up in accidents – as befell Liuzzi at Magny-Cours when he was rammed by Anthony Davidson, or Speed who was spun out at Bahrain.
Consequently in their ten races as team mates Speed and Liuzzi managed only seven finished between them, half of which were caused by car failure.
However sharing information with Red Bull clearly had its benefits, and both team made progress in the latter half of the season, which in the case of Toro Rosso coincided with the arrival of Vettel.
It seems unrealistic to attribute Toro Rosso’s leap forward to the arrival of Vettel. Liuzzi started in front of him more often than not, and only finished behind him once.
But Vettel certainly picked him moments. After the disaster of Fuji – where he took himself out of third place and fellow Red Bull driver Mark Webber out of second by crashing under the safety car – he played the conditions to perfection at Shanghai to take a richly deserved fourth place.
Vettel is now being tipped as one of the sport’s future stars and Liuzzi is hoping the cards fall in his favour when Fernando Alonso finally chooses his fate for 2008 and McLaren name his replacement.
The team he leaves behind has proven it is ready to join the ranks of regular points scorers given a sufficiently competitive and reliable car. But questions must be raised about the man management at the team with, outside of McLaren, must have been among the worst at any team in 2007, especially as it has signed Sebastien Bourdais, who in Champ Cars has developed a reputation for being as brilliant as he is awkward.
Lastly, it is worth pointing out that Toro Rosso are among a number of teams threatened by the dispute over the legality of customer cars in F1 as of next year. Williams are challenging the legal entitlement of teams to purchase and race chassis rather than develop their own, which could jeopardise the future of Toro Rosso along with Super Aguri and the nascent Prodrive outfit.
Photos: GEPA / Bildagentaur Kraeling