2011 Team Reviews - Toro Rosso


World Champion
It's been a while since I did a team review, since I haven't been getting to sleep until 4-6am the past few days, I thought, what the heck, it's overdue anyway. It might be sloppy since I did it early morning, although I am wide awake.

Anyway, enjoy.

Toro Rosso Season Review

The teams testing pace attracted attention as they appeared towards the top of the times sheets over the winter.

That’s was an encouraging sign for the team that only finished ahead of the new outfits in 2010.

After several years of using Red Bull chassis Toro Rosso began to forge their own path on car design last year. That was a tough ask for a team which hadn’t built its own car since 2005, when it was Minardi.

The Giorgio Ascanelli-designed STR6 is notable for its ‘double floor’ and upswept sidepods, designed to maximise the airflow to the rear of the car and increase downforce.

The drivers have reacted positively to it. Jaime Alguersuari talked about challenging for points in every race, despite the team only scoring on seven occasions from a possible 38 last year.
Recent history tells us that Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi should have felt a little uneasy about their position heading into 2011. Toro Rosso has never gone two consecutive seasons without changing their driver line-up.

Waiting the in the wings is Daniel Ricciardo, who impressed by settings fastest times in the young drivers’ test at the end of last year’s test.

It certainly helped matters that he was driving the world championship-winning Red Bull RB6, but the rest of his credentials stack up as well. He was British Formula Three champion in 2009 and missed out on the Formula Renault 3.5 title in his rookie season last year by a whisker.

It’s been said that Toro Rosso is less a team in its own right and more a hothouse for young drivers that who will one day race for Red Bull and there’s more than a grain of truth in that.
The fact that they’re now required to produce their own cars could be a clue as to why they’ve stuck with the same pair this long. The more experience their drivers have, the more able they are to contribute to car development.

But that might not have stopped them changing their driver line-up half-way through the season again.

Of course the team's main purpose has always been to act as a training school for Red Bull Racing.
When both squads were hanging around in the midfield (not too far apart and sometimes in the 'wrong' order for the Red Bull hierarchy), this seemed like a pointless exercise.

But now Red Bull are winning titles, expecting its protégés to jump straight from junior racing and immediately deal with the pressure of fighting the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso for championships is a tall order - so Toro Rosso can fill a genuinely useful role for the drinks company's driver development programme.

Red Bull certainly benefited from Sebastian Vettel stepping into its senior team with solid experience (and even a grand prix win) behind him from his Toro Rosso stint.

That means all eyes are on Toro Rosso to create the 'next Vettel', and this year's contenders Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari didn't seem to fit the bill as they were axed very late on in the season.

Toro Rosso finished the 2010 season ninth in the final championship classification. Matter-of-fact technical director Giorgio Ascanelli thought that was about right. If they'd been tenth, he said, they should have been shot, and if they'd been eighth it would have been a miracle.

Well, without divine intervention in 2011 the team from Faenza was eighth, outscoring Williams by no less than 39 points. Another four points would have put them in front of seventh-placed Sauber, with whom they shared Ferrari engines.

The STR6 was an interesting design, featuring a twin-floor concept with raised sidepods to allow better airflow to the rear in an attempt to recover lost downforce from the double diffuser ban.

The team didn’t deliver their pre-season testing pace, and it showed. At the beginning of the season in Australia, Buemi finished eighth and collected four championship points; it would have been a tenth place if both Sauber drivers weren't disqualified. The Malaysian Grand Prix saw no points while China saw both cars in the Top 10 for qualifying after a topsy-turvy qualifying session, Alguersuari in seventh and Buemi in tenth with Toro Rosso splitting the strategy and putting Alguersuari on a dry set-up and Buemi on a wet setup. However Alguersuari turned out to be the race's only retirement and Buemi finished way down the field.

Turkey saw Buemi finishing ninth while Spain was another bad race for the team with Alguersuari again failing to score. Monaco saw Buemi in the points in tenth, ahead of Nico Rosberg whilst Alguersuari crashed out along with Vitaly Petrov in an incident that brought out the red flag to the race. In Canada, Alguersuari finished eighth, helped out by the retirements of Adrian Sutil, Nick Heidfeld and Paul di Resta. Buemi also finished in tenth for the team's first double score since the 2009 Australian Grand Prix when Buemi was seventh ahead of Sébastien Bourdais.

In the British Grand Prix, Alguersuari scored a point with a tenth place finish while Buemi collided with di Resta, which forced his retirement from the race. Neither driver finished in the points in Germany, but both drivers picked up points in Hungary; with Buemi having one of his greatest races of the season, he started twenty-third on the grid - after a grid penalty – and went onto finish eighth, while Alguersuari who was running well until he had a collision with Kobayashi, added another point to his tally with tenth place.

At the Belgian Grand Prix the team looked on for a double points finish after a major update to the car, however that wasn’t to be, Alguersuari qualified sixth, but retired on the first lap after Bruno Senna in his first race of 2011 decided to use the Toro Rosso as a brake assistance. Buemi who got a great start from eleventh on the grid went up to sixth place, the Toro Rosso was looking great around Spa, but yet again, after 6 laps, their driver had to retire after Sergio Pérez ran into the back off Buemi.

Was this the race that cost them seventh place in the constructors?

After such miserable race at Spa, both drivers went on to pick up points at Monza, with Alguersuari a career-best seventh, after cutting the chicane to avoid the collision into turns 1 and 2 with both Lotus drivers, Maldonado and Di Resta all gaining several positions, and Buemi recovered to tenth after getting caught up in the first collision aftermath. With the Toro Rosso's great straight-line speed, this had to be the race where they scored a handful of points to get their season back on track, due to the track nature suiting them.

At the Japanese Grand Prix, Alguersuari finished in fifteenth position, while Buemi who was running well and in a points scoring position, retired with a loose tyre. The Korean Grand Prix saw the team qualify in eleventh and thriteenth places respectively. Both drivers, in my opinion had their greatest race of 2011.

Here’s why:

Buemi started thirteenth but got tagged from behind by a Sauber losing several places down into twentieth in the first corner, made his up to seventeenth by lap one, it was up hill from there, but with Toro Rosso’s straight-line advantage, overtaking was likely. By lap 31 was up to ninth, pitted one lap too early as the safety car came out a lap later. He then his way up to ninth and only 10s behind his team-mate while setting the fourth fastest lap in the race.

Meanwhile, his team-mate Alguersuari in the first lap went up the order rather than down started eleventh and made his way up to eighth in the first lap, his pace was consistent, and made his tyres last longer than those around him, and got a free pit-stop when the safety car came out, he overtook Rosberg's Mercedes on the final lap to take the team's best race result in 2011, of seventh place.

In India Alguersuari added an eigth, while Buemi retired due to a mechanical failure. In Abu Dhabi, Alguersuari again finished down in fifteenth; meanwhile Buemi had his third retirement in four races while running in the points. Both drivers finished outside the points at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix in eleventh and twelve places.

The team finished eigth in the constructors and finished ahead of an established for the first time since 2008. It could have been even better for the team, as they were on the verge of leap-frogging Sauber in the standings late on in the season, however three mechanical failures in the latter half of the season when one of its drivers was in the points certainly cost them, as did the ever-so promising Spa weekend, which in the end, turned into, a disaster.

Both drivers though had their best seasons to date.

Alguersuari’s season was very poor up until Valencia, and was on the verge of getting replaced by Daniel Ricciardo. That is, until when, he broke a performance clause in his contract by scoring an eigth place in Canada. After then, his season took steep climb, scoring points, and the team’s best finish of the season twice, with a great race in Korea. He was unfortunately taken out in Spa, where he qualified sixth and looked on for some solid points. However, several of his points came from having a tyre advantage by dropping out in Q1, saving a set of tyres in the midfield is crucial as the midfielders burn out most if not all of their option tyres. Was praised for a great turn around, and quite rightly so, however, unfortunately, his fate was sealed after his appalling first half of the season.

Buemi started the season of brightly with four points finishes in seven races compared to his team-mates one. Consistent throughout the season with qualifying and race pace, and looked very handy. His bad luck seemed to carry on from 2010, especially in the second half of the season was miserable, four retirements in eight races and all four times he was in the points. His best races where in Hungary from twenty-third to finish eighth, and in Korea where both drivers had great races. Michael Schumacher managed to steal the crown of most overtakes by two from Buemi and also best starter.

Both drivers were dropped very late on in the season, it was announced while both were still working for the team, Alguersuari doing PR work, while Buemi doing simulator runs.

The team grew with the two onboard for three seasons, unfortunately for them; the bar has been raised by Helmut Marko ever since Sebastian Vettel shone at the little team. With the decision being made so late, and only two seats up for grabs, the drivers don’t have many options, which makes the decision at such a time harsh. Buemi has signed up for the third driver role for Red Bull and Toro Rosso, while Alguersuari doesn’t have anything confirmed.

They have been both replaced by Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. Both look like hot prospects and have been hyped up, the battle between these two will be one to watch.

Neither can afford a slow start, like Alguersuari had in 2011, and must hit the ground running.

That task should be easier for Ricciardo, who has some Formula One experience. For Vergne however, currently the gold child of the Red Bull driver programme, that job will be slightly harder as he comes to grips with a new car, new tyres and renewed pressure. He’s made the leap up to Formula One, but as Martin Brundle has often stated; “getting there is easy, staying there is much harder”.

Highlights: Finishing seventh and ninth in Korea, a great second half of the season turnaround, and managing to fight amongst the Force India’s, Renault’s and Sauber’s on merit.

Lowlights: Three mechanical failures in the second half of the season, costing them several points. Also, after a promising qualifying session in China with both cars in the top 10, no points were scored with race pace being ever so poor. And last but not least, the abysmal Belgian GP weekend.
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