I’ve never really been a fan of Toro Rosso, because they’ve never been allowed to compete in their own right. They have always used a Red Bull chassis, and they have always gotten upgrades once Red Bull are done with them. Look at the double-deck diffusers from 2009 – Red Bull got theirs at Silverstone, but Toro Rosso didn’t get to use it until Budapest, despite the RB5 and STR4 being the same car. Moreover, Toro Rosso was created for the express purpose of training young drivers for Red Bull. As soon as someone started showing talent, they were whisked away. Now, I know that when the team was Minardi, they often had their drivers picked up as soon as they showed talent, but the team was not established for that purpose. The nature of Toro Rosso means that while there are twelve teams on-track, there are only really eleven that are racing. Virgin, Lotus and even Hispania all stand a better chance of performing than Toro Rosso do simply because they are allowed to. Toro Rosso are really just a glorified GP2 team, and that’s where they should have been racing in the first plce: GP2.
It’s also getting to the point where the Red Bull Young Driver Program is a failure. There are too many drivers and not enough seats, and only one of those drivers that Toro Rosso has run – Vettel – has proven to be any decent. Heck, Red Bull themselves are only running one driver that they have been with since inception; Mark Webber was never involved with Red Bull until he started driving for them. Consequently, a sale of the team will be good for all involved.
As for who is going to buy the team, well, that’s another matter entirely. The way I see it, there are three potential candidates, and none of them are particularly good. Carlos Slim is the first, and probably the most credible candidate – but Telmex is pretty tight with Esteban Gutierrez, and Gutierrez has joined Sauber as testing and reserve driver, so if Telmex is going to get involved with anyone, it’s the Swiss. Talk of him joining forced with Toro Rosso is likely to be a baragaining chip.
The second candidate is Parris Mullins. He’s been very quiet of late, but he has talked of buying into a team, and he wants to run a Ferrari “B” team, much like Toro Rosso is the Red Bull “B” team. Mullins has connections to Ferrari, and Toro Rosso is an ideal candidate for him because it’s based in Italy, has a pre-existing Ferrari deal for engines, and is already structured as a “B” team, so not much will change. But I’m against the concept of “B” teams in general, and given their behaviour this season, I can’t imagine that giving Ferrari another two drivers to work with is going to go down well. This problem came up in the 2006 V8 Supercar championship when Craig Lowndes was racing Rick Kelly for the title. Kelly drove for Holden at the time, in their de facto factory team. The weekend was packed with incidents where drivers from the two teams were constantly blocking Lowndes, trying to slow him down to let Kelly catch up and so on. I have grave concerns that if there are two Ferrari “B” team backmarkers out there, Ferrari will use them to manipulate championships at critical points.
The third and final candidate is Jacques Villeneuve, who is either the most credible or the least credible potential buyer for the team. I’ve never understood the love for Villeneuve, especially since he scored more points in 1998 than he did for the rest of his career. If he’s considering buying Toro Rosso for the sake of giving himself a drive, the team is really going to suck since it’s going to be nothing more than a vanity project. It’s going to be even worse if he tries to be lead driver and team principal at the same time; Mark Skaife tried it a few years ago with the aforementioned de facto Holden team, and his pace dropped off immediately. It was simply too much for him to handle, and as Alain Prost so aptly demonstrated for us all, there is not a fine line between racer and principal, but a Berlin Wall between racer and principal – with armed guards every thirty feet. So if Villeneuve joins for the sake of giving himself a seat, the team is going to be even more of a joke than Hispania. At least Hispania is a funny joke; Villeneuve by Durango would be pathetic.
But: if Villeneuve buys Toro Rosso and intends to simply run the team and let someone else have a go, then I think the team will actualy be worth the time of day and more.