One of the surprises of 2008 was Toro Rosso beating its sister team Red Bull in the constructors’ championship and claiming its maiden win. Toyota, meanwhile, had one of their best ever F1 seasons.
Here’s a look at how these three teams performed in 2008.
Was 2008 the season when Toyota finally began the transition from perennial under-performers from genuine front runners? Or was it another false dawn like 2005?
We probably won’t be able to judge that until this time next year, but the signs so far are good. The Cologne-based squad ended the year fifth with 56 points. That’s one place and 22 points worse than they managed in 2005 – their best performance since joining F1 seven years ago – but the opposition was stronger this time around.
It’s still far below the performance one would expect of F1’s richest team. But they managed it despite having a rookie in one of their cars, who struggled to match his team mate’s performance in the first half of the season.
Timo Glock found form in the second half of the year though and gave the team its best result of the season with an excellent drive to second at the Hungaroring.
Six races before the end of the season, over three-quarters of us expected Toyota to finish fourth in the constructors’ championship. How did the end up slumping to fifth?
Two reasons: Renault got to grips with the R28 and won two of the last four races. And Toyota, like Ferrari, generally struggled in the cooler, wetter races like Spa and Monza, where they failed to score.
That aside for a team that went into 2008 with question marks hanging over their future participation, Toyota did as well as could be expected of them. Can they continue this progress in 2009?
Toro Rosso started the season using last year’s STR2 chassis and an earlier development of Ferrari’s V8 engine.
Their performance improved at two notable points in the year: first, when they brought the STR3 to its first race at Monte-Carlo, and Sebastian Vettel brought it home fifth in the rain. Second, after they upgraded to Ferrari’s better engine specification later in the season. Vettel was sixth at Valencia, fifth at Spa, and then snatched that magnificent win at Monza with the kind of unruffled, imperturbable cool the championship contenders could have done with demonstrating more often.
If Vettel’s late pass on Lewis Hamilton at Interlagos had ended up costing Hamilton the world championship, Ferrari’s decision to let Toro Rosso use the more potent version of their engine in the second half of the year would look very clever indeed.
Unfortunately for Sebastien Bourdais, the Toro Rosso story was about the other Seb. At the time of writing Bourdais is fighting to keep his place in F1. It doesn’t help his cause that he delayed the arrival of the STR3 by wrecking one in testing.
We have two drivers. Williams and Renault have only one.
At the end of the year, that analysis of the situation hadn’t held true. A big part of Red Bull’s problem was that David Coulthard didn’t contribute as much to their tally as he should have, managing only eight points to Webber’s 21.
Coulthard crashed out of five races and collisions spoiled some of his other drives as well. He wasn’t necessarily always to blame for them, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion he let the team down.
Red Bull’s other problem was that they struggled to beat their sister team – and hardly managed it at all once Toro Rosso got their Ferrari upgrade. This presents a delicate problem for 2009: although Red Bull will likely have a stronger driver line-up than Toro Rosso, they won’t have the better engines. Unless, (a) they switch engine contracts or (b) Flavio Briatore’s demands for engine power to be equalised are heeded.
But was the difference between Red Bull and Toro Rosso all down to engine performance? How big a role did the emerging talent of Vettel play? Webber’s words might come back to haunt him if he finds himself staring at Vettel’s rear wing in 2009.