Toro Rosso struggling after Renault engine switch

2014 F1 season preview

Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, Bahrain, 2014

As they enter their ninth season Toro Rosso are keen to dispel the view that they are “just a satellite team to Red Bull”.

While that’s certainly no longer the case in terms of car development – the Faenza-based team have designed and developed their own chassis since 2009 – it’s their driver hiring policy which cements the view of them as the ‘Red Bull junior’ squad.

Team principal Franz Tost himself has described the team as a “rookie training school” for Red Bull. That being so, Toro Rosso found themselves with a gap to fill this year following Daniel Ricciardo’s promotion to the top team.

It came as something of a surprise when they passed over arguably more qualified drivers on the Red Bull driver development programme in favour of Daniil Kvyat. He made good on their faith in him by winning the GP3 championship late last year, but he arrived at the team with fewer F1 miles on the clock than the likes of Antonio Felix da Costa or Carlos Sainz Jnr.

Nor has he been able to pile on as many miles as he needed to in testing. His first day in the STR9 in Jerez was a complete non-starter – quite literally, as the car never left the garage. Since then Kvyat, who gained his superlicence less than four months ago, has covered a further 1,116km, but that’s less than his fellow 2014 rookies have managed.

He is partnered by Jean-Eric Vergne who started his third season with the team. Past Toro Rosso drivers have not tended to last much longer at the team as they are ushered aside in favour of the latest talent from the Red Bull production line, though given the scale of the regulation changes this year Toro Rosso may prefer to retain Vergne as a known quantity for as long as they can.

Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, Bahrain, 2014Although Toro Rosso take Red Bull’s lead when it comes to drivers, they largely steer their own ship when it comes to car development. But here too they have moved in line with their sister team by switching from Ferrari to Renault engines over the winter – a decision they may have regretted once the manifest problems with their new Energy F1 power unit became apparent.

This does not bode well for a team which misfired in 2013. Tost’s target of sixth in the constructors’ championship was quickly forgotten as it became clear the team had only made a very modest step over the winter. Their eventual finishing position of eighth owed at least as much to Williams badly losing their way.

Although technical director James Key joined the team in 2012, the long lead time on car development means the STR9 will be the first Toro Rosso whose design he has steered from an early stage. He says the work to restore the team’s technical department, which was cut back during the years as Red Bull chassis customers, is still progressing.

“The aero side was by far our biggest priority, as we wanted to put that department into a much more current and competitive shape,” he explained. “Over the past 12 months, we’ve been working on increasing the size of the aerodynamics department. It’s grown significantly, and we now have many new people with very relevant F1 experience.”

Even so Key still feels the division is not yet where it should be for a team of Toro Rosso’s size and budget. But it’s the change of engine rules and engine supplier which he feels represent the biggest challenge for the team this year:

“To switch from a process where you’ve got a well-established and understood way of working with the previous engine supplier to a situation where you have not only a new engine supplier but also a totally different type of power unit that we’re not familiar with at all, is quite a big leap. ”

Given that it’s perhaps no surprise Toro Rosso managed less than half the mileage some of their rivals logged in testing. It’s been a difficult start to the season for a team which face a year of upheaval. As testing drew to a close Vergne admitted they had many problems to fix before the first race.

While Red Bull wants for little in terms of resources to throw at the problems with their new engine, you have to doubt whether Toro Rosso will be able to get up to speed as quickly.

Toro Rosso’s F1 record

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/stats.csv

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Championship position 9 7 6 10 9 8 9 8
Points 1 8 39 8 13 41 26 33
Wins 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Pole positions 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0

Over to you

How do you expect Toro Rosso to perform this year – and how will Kvyat fare in his first season of F1? Have your say in the comments.

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23 comments on Toro Rosso struggling after Renault engine switch

  1. Morty Vicar (@mortyvicar) said on 4th March 2014, 11:21

    Perhaps Red Bull understood the challenges they were facing ahead of time and mandated that Toro Rosso changed over to the same engine? Having a Ferrari-powered junior team trouncing the senior Red Bulls would not have gone down well. Toro Rosso may still trounce Red Bull…

    • Celettu said on 4th March 2014, 11:32

      No. Just…no.

    • M3rc said on 4th March 2014, 11:36

      That’s one way of looking at it. Another would be that based on the results RBR had over the past 4 years with Renault, Torro Rosso thought it would be good to bet on Renault as well going forward. I’ve also read that RBT (RB Technologies) developed the ERS for use with Renault engines, which might have been appealing to Torro Rosso.

      What RB & TR should have collectively realized that given the engine overhaul, it wasn’t a good idea to put all their eggs in one basket. They absolutely SHOULD have gone with different suppliers. If not anything else, it would have given them an idea about the relative efficiencies and capabilities of Ferrari’s PU.

      Now that I think about it, did Ferrari withdraw their offer to Torro Rosso to prevent RBR from learning about their PU? Just a thought.

      • Chris (@ukphillie) said on 4th March 2014, 11:46

        I think, and also speculated when it was announced, that you may be right about Ferrari pulling the engines.

      • petebaldwin (@petebaldwin) said on 4th March 2014, 12:05

        Yeah very good point. I imagine Ferrari weren’t keen on Red Bull getting all of the details about their engine to pass onto Renault!

        Whilst their are obvious advantages to running different engines (spreading the risk), there are also clear advantages to both running the same engine. They’ve not got 4 cars trying to work on the same issues instead of 2 so in theory, they should get where they need to be more quickly.

      • aka_robyn said on 4th March 2014, 12:08

        Sorry, I’m not quite following you. Could you please provide your comment in the form of an anti-Red Bull conspiracy theory? Thanks!

      • Mashiat said on 4th March 2014, 13:28

        Or it might have been that in 2013, Ferrari was probably behind on Engine Development. It was pretty common news at the time.

      • Mads (@mads) said on 4th March 2014, 13:30

        They absolutely SHOULD have gone with different suppliers

        I disagree.
        Torro Rosso isn’t going to win championships, and their results really doesn’t matter that much.
        It will help them a lot more that their sister team runs the same engine and gearbox. That means more laps on the PU and ‘box. More data to work with and more solutions to test. Say Torro Rosso finds a good way to deal with issue nr. 9572 on the PU, they will likely invite Newey for a cup of coffee. Lotus and Caterham won’t do that.

    • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 4th March 2014, 19:43

      Remember Red Bull ran with Renault engines in 2008, whereas Toro Rosso used Ferrari engines.

    • Pennyroyal tea (@peartree) said on 5th March 2014, 4:41

      @mortyvicar lol, not the main reason was probably to allow both Renault and RBR/STR a better understanding of their own powertrain secondly it’s better financially for RBR/STR and in the end I’m sure Ferrari wouldn’t want their information leaking to Renault but that is going a strech since I’m sure that Renault were confident they would dominate on the powertrain side.

      Does anyone remember Coulthard and Webber complaining that the Renault’s drop off from race to race was very substancial and also that they believed STR were in a better position because of that, not to mention the ongoing rumours until 2012 that Red Bull wanted Mercedes engines.

  2. Dan Brown (@danbrown180) said on 4th March 2014, 12:21

    What a terrible way for Minardi to end up.

  3. Force Maikel (@force-maikel) said on 4th March 2014, 12:49

    @keithcollantine

    ‘the Faenza-based team have designed and developed their own chassis since 2009′

    Shouldn’t that be 2010?

  4. DaveD (@daved) said on 4th March 2014, 14:19

    Is it just me or has Toro Rosso made their front nose “arches” more aggressive on each side of the anteater nose extender? (hey, I’m being polite going with the anteater vs other more apt metaphors LOL)

    Maybe it’s just the angle of the accompanying pic makes it more obvious, but it sure seems to have become more aggressive since the launch pics to me.

  5. Mark in Florida said on 4th March 2014, 23:11

    Red Bull needed Toro Rosso to have the same pu as they did to aid development. It’s easier if your Jr.. affiliate has the same equipment as you. It speeds things up abit.

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