The latest candidates are Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, who are entering their second seasons with the team.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of recent F1 history knows the clock is ticking and the road in front of them leads either to a Red Bull seat or a door marked ‘exit’.
But Toro Rosso’s role as Red Bull’s kindergarten doesn’t mean it lacks ambitions of its own. Team principal Franz Tost made it plain at the launch of the STR8 that his aim is for the team to finish sixth overall in 2013.
That would be three places higher than they managed last year, matching the peak they hit with Vettel in 2008. This tall order will likely mean beating Sauber, Force India and Williams – a considerable challenge, and one which will reveal any shortcomings in its drivers.
But the team need more from their car as well. The STR7 offered limited set-up options and just wasn’t quick enough. Several areas for progress were identified on it.
Following the departure of Giorgio Ascanelli the STR8 was designed by former McLaren man Luca Furbatto, who has been with this team for more than a year. It will also benefit from the input of James Key, who joined Toro Rosso from Sauber in September.
The team expect significant gains from the changes in the technical team. “We had the hands [behind] our backs last year,” admitted Jean-Eric Vergne. He describes the changes in the new car as “massive”.
Both drivers will need to exploit the opportunity if they are to avoid joining the list of young hopefuls Toro Rosso has tested and discarded. With promising rookie Antonio Felix da Costa looking ripe for graduation to F1, they cannot afford any slip-ups.
However neither driver will admit to feeling under pressure as the year begins. “I have no problem with the pressure,” says Vergne.
“I always lived with the pressure: when I was in go-karts I was never sure for doing the next season. So I was never secure. I’m still in the same position. It’s quite nice to be under pressure, I deal with it, it’s not a problem for me.”
Car 18: Jean-Eric Vergne
He is also relishing the challenge of Pirelli’s tricky tyres which he expects will suit his driving style better this year.
There were a few weak spots in Vergne’s game last year. More often than not he gave away a few tenths to Ricciardo in qualifying and there were a couple of incidents too.
But his race pace was sound and with as more adaptable car at his disposal he has a chance to realise more of his potential.
Car 19: Daniel Ricciardo
Ricciardo is a generally chipper character but the grin was discernibly broader after he’d sampled the STR8 for the first time. Like his team mate, he believes this car will give him more opportunities to show his potential.
There were flashes of it last year: such as in Bahrain, where he qualified an excellent sixth, only to reverse his way through the field in a nightmare opening lap.
Like Vergne, Ricciardo says he’s grown used to being told he has a ‘make or break’ campaign ahead of him: “It’s something I hear at the beginning of every season: ‘This season’s a big year, it’s an important season…’, I mean they all are.”
“It’s got to the point where I’ve gone through enough important seasons that no one is more important than the other. You shouldn’t approach it any differently, in a way. I think I’ve approached the last few seasons in the right way to get to Formula One and to be here. It’s not like you change your approach or anything.
“You try to improve some things you’ve learnt with experience, which I’m doing. But there’s no radical mental training it’s just go and do what you know and as I said just try and keep improving and let experience show you the way. I’m not looking at the season as a whole yet. I still like to take a step-by-step process. I’m not doing anything radically different.”
Toro Rosso STR8
Toro Rosso championship form
Toro Rosso in 2013: Your view
Do either of Toro Rosso’s drivers look like Red Bull star of the future to you? How close will they get to their target of sixth in the constructors’ championship?
Have your say in the comments.
2013 F1 season preview
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