Toro Rosso have a track record for chopping and changing drivers – will it happen again in 2011?
Their testing pace has attracted attention as they have appeared towards the top of the times sheets over the winter.
That’s an encouraging sign for the team that only finished ahead of the new outfits in 2010 – though we won’t know until Melbourne whether their apparent pace is real.
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 feel a little uneasy about their position heading into 2011. Toro Rosso have 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.
Ricciardo’s already had the chance to drive the STR6 in pre-season testing and will be driving again in some Friday test sessions this year.
It’s a particularly critical season for Buemi who’s been with the team for two years.
Throughout 2010 he rarely looked as good as he had at the end of 2009, with the STR4 (read: RB5) at his disposal, and lost the initiative to Alguersuari during 2010 by the end of the year.
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 stop them changing their driver line-up half-way through the season again.
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