Daniil Kvyat, Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, Sochi Autodrom, 2014

Tough choices at Toro Rosso after Vettel’s move

2014 F1 season review

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[interactivecharts]Daniil Kvyat, Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, Sochi Autodrom, 2014

Toro Rosso team stats 2014

Best race result (number)6 (1)
Best grid position (number) 5 (2)
Non-classifications (mechanical/other) 10 (10/0)
Laps completed (% of total) 1,895 (81.4%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2013)7 (8)
Championship points (2013)30 (33)
Pit stop performance ranking8

While independent outfits like Marussia and Caterham are increasingly priced out of Formula One, teams like Toro Rosso are considered by some to be the future for the sport’s midfield: satellite outfits to the rich and heavily subsidised teams, which serve to hothouse young talent for them.

If that is the way the sport is heading, Toro Rosso serve as a model for how these teams may promote new drivers. This year, Red Bull’s tenth season in F1, was the first time both their cars were occupied by graduates of their young driver programme. And when Sebastian Vettel decided he would move to Ferrari the team did not hesitate to promote from their junior squad once again.

But the timing of Vettel’s announcement in October proved unfortunate for Toro Rosso. In August the team decided to promote Max Verstappen – a 17-year-old with less than a year’s racing experience – to F1 in 2015. He would take the place of Jean-Eric Vergne alongside Daniil Kvyat.

Vettel’s departure then meant Kvyat was gone, leaving Toro Rosso with one rookie and one empty seat for next year. Although they appear to have considered it, eventually decided not to go back on their earlier decision to drop Vergne, and instead chose to appoint Carlos Sainz Jnr.

This was to Vergne’s considerable chagrin, who not unreasonably pointed out he had taken 22 points to Kvyat’s 9 by the end of the season. Significantly, however, at the time Toro Rosso chose to drop him the gap between the two was much closer. The bulk of Vergne’s subsequent points haul came in Singapore, where a Safety Car and a late switch to soft tyres brought a big pay-off, while Kvyat ended the race in a bad way having driven for two hours in suffocating humidity without a drinks bottle.

Even so, it must have been a close decision which driver to promote, particularly in light of the handicap Vergne had at the beginning of the season when his car was over the minimum weight limit, owing to him being taller than most drivers. It’s not hard to find reasons why Franz Tost considers him the best Toro Rosso driver not to get a seat at Red Bull.

Vergne’s clearest weakness is his qualifying pace. Even in an era where overtaking is less of a challenge due to DRS and designed-to-degrade tyres, securing the best possible grid position remains a vital skill for a driver. Having been emphatically beaten by Daniel Ricciardo in 2012 and 2013 Vergne also lost to his rookie team mate this year.

Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, Yas Marina, 2014Although rearing young drivers is Toro Rosso’s primary concern rather than championship success, it will be a source of pride for them that having switched to Renault engines this year they finished the season ahead of two teams with the same equipment. That Toro Rosso would beat Caterham was to be expected, but claiming the scalp of Lotus was a bonus.

The STR9, Toro Rosso’s first design from the pen of James Key, showed a good turn of speed, too. But while it reached Q3 on 16 occasions – four more than Force India managed – Toro Rosso ended the year 125 points behind the cars from Silverstone. The reason for that can be summed up in one word: unreliability.

As was the case for most Renault-powered teams, testing threw up “major problems”. On one day in Jerez the car never even left the pit lane. It was therefore quite a surprise when the team turned up at the first race in Australia and got both cars in the top ten in qualifying and the race.

But thereafter they were plagued by problems. The car’s exhaust was a recurring source of difficulty, and Vergne especially suffered in the opening races. Making matters worse, he was hit by Pastor Maldonado in Bahrain, had a grid penalty in Spain after a wheel fell off in practice, and his Monaco run was ruined when he was released from the pits too soon.

Meanwhile the impressive Kvyat scored in three of his first four appearances, which included reaching Q3 on the first occasion he’s driven the STR9 in the rain. But while Vergne went over his power unit allocation once, Kvyat did so on two occasions, leading to a trio of grid penalties due to the FIA’s ‘carry-over’ rule (which has already been scrapped for next year). This included at Monza, where he superbly raced back to the outskirts of the points following his ten-place penalty, only to suffer brake failure.

On other occasions the team simply couldn’t get the car to work as well over a race stint as it did in qualifying. Russia was the most glaring example of this: Kvyat produced the team’s best qualifying performance of the year with fifth, but both finished out of the points as they struggled with their rear tyres and high fuel consumption.

Kvyat inherited another fifth on the grid in Abu Dhabi and was on course for points once again when he was halted by an ignition problem. As well as introducing two rookies to Formula One, ‘improve reliability’ will be high on this team’s to-do list for the off-season.

2014 Toro Rosso race results


AustraliaMalaysiaBahrainChinaSpainMonacoCanadaAustriaBritainGermanyHungaryBelgiumItalySingaporeJapanRussiaUSABrazilAbu Dhabi
Jean-Eric Vergne81281013911136913101312
Daniil Kvyat9101110149149111411141511

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “Tough choices at Toro Rosso after Vettel’s move”

  1. That picture is quite awesome! What lap was it on? Most likely I missed it as I slept off in that boring race.

  2. I wonder IF Toro Rosso have a Merc engine this year, i’m sure they have a chance to beat RBR

    1. That’s like saying, “If they had a jet engine they would have beaten RBR”.

      Neither is going to happen.

    2. I know my comment is silly, but I’m just made random guessing so don’t take it seriously

    3. It was funny when in 2008 STR had the Ferrari engine and were actually faster than the RBR cars at Monza. Of course they were helped by Raikkonen and Hamilton dropping out due to being caught out by the rain in Q2, but even Bourdais made it to P4 in qualifying.

  3. Hey @keithcollantine, it’s a minor I know, but could you change one of the colours on the graph so that it is easier to compare the two drivers :-D

    1. +1

      It becomes quite difficult indeed.

  4. Good read, thanks for the interesting perspective on this situation, I personally think Vergne had a great chance to prove himself in F1 and came up short. Tough world, looking forward to seeing the new breed get their chance, especially Carlos Sainz Jnr and Kvyat in a RedBull alongside Danny Ric

  5. I have never been a fan of this model:

    Rookie -> Good driver -> Red Bull
    Rookie -> Not so good driver -> Get out of F1 and never come back

    I doubt if Max Verstappen’s father would have found a race seat after Benetton dropped him if the whole F1 had worked like that in 1990s. F1 needs all kinds of drivers: Late bloomers, safe pairs of hands, fast-but-crash-prone racers etc. But there are only rookies and superstars in “the [potential] future for the sport’s midfield”.

    I also do not see how such satellite outfits can have any fans. It is like being a fan of Gary Paffett (in F1, not DTM).

    As for Toro Rosso’s 2014 results, I want to say a few words on them, too. No, actually I don’t because I do not care. I am wondering if Vergne is going to end up in Indycar or somewhere else and how Kvyat will do at Red Bull but STR’s championship position, reliability ratio and pit stop performance are not interesting to me. And that is the point.

    1. @girts I sympathise with your feelings. But you must also understand the way Red Bull works. If they feel that you are no (short term) championship material, than you will be replaced. I found it very harsh on either Alguersuari and Buemi back then, but their replacements (Vergne and Ricciardo) proved to be equally good or better, so in the end I backed this decision.

      And let’s face it: you know the terms when you sign for Red Bull. And with Vettel, Ricciardo, Vergne, Kvyat, Verstappen, Lynn, Sainz and Gasly breathing in your neck, Red Bull is in the position to demand results. AND you will always get at least two whole seasons to prove your value, so you will not be dumped. AND other teams are free to hire you if they feel that Red Bull has made a mistake in ‘dumping’ you.

      Red Bull is very harsh, but F1 is the real deal. Be the best or be replaced. And because up to now (almost) all of the Red Bull-talents turned out to be valuable, respectable and enjoyable F1-drivers, it’s something I support. Better than too many paydrivers.

    2. Well, the mentality is easy to understand, with Toro Rosso’s sole purpose being to supply the A-Team with the best two drivers available, and the roles of the STR drivers being in essence immaterial. Also, when you compare a driver with two full seasons of F1 experience to the results of a rookie without even any FR3.5 or GP2 experience, the margin for error is overwhelming. And yet, in what was meant to be a learning year for Kvyat, he profoundly outpaced JEV on a number of occasions. In reality Daniil almost certainly has more long term potential than Jean.

      And yet, whilst that is why Kvyat has been promoted, it does not explain why Vergne has been dropped. The answer is cultural. Unlike McLaren or Ferrari who support a hand selected few on a supply and demand basis, Red Bull prefer to saturate their programme with talent in the hope that the very best will stand up and be counted in illustrious company. However this of course means that those who lose out are quality drivers, like Brendon Hartley and Antonio Felix da Costa (plus the loser of the inevitable Gasly v. Lynn fight in GP2 in 2015), or a driver may join the programme, succeed, only to find that no seats are available. So whilst the Red Bull Junior Team has had some success (Vettel, Ricciardo, Kvyat), it has also failed genuinely talented drivers (Hartley, Da Costa, Vergne). Certainly the supply and demand model McLaren adopts (Raikkonen, Hamilton, Magnussen, Vandoorne), or the reserve role offered by Williams and Force India in recent history, appears more reliably successful to my eye.

      And yet, unlike his predecessors Alguersuari and Buemi, Vergne is leaving the paddock a very well-regarded racing driver with reference to his comparison to quantified superstar Ricciardo. He stands a good chance of landing a role elsewhere in the pitlane, albeit it won’t be a race seat. Also sportscar racing is in the ascendancy an the talented 24-year old has the necessary notoriety to establish a long term and likely successful career with a factory project in the WEC. So whilst it is perhaps not the pitlane that JEV would most like to be in, I still think we will be saying JEV’s name for many years to come. Better than being a seventeen-year old’s coach anyway…

      1. Never heard of Brendon Hartley before this post :P

        It’s nice to see he managed to have a succesful career in WEC (3 podiums) despite being dropped by Red Bull.

        1. @paeschli Hartley showed real potential in the junior categories but due to a lack of motor-racing culture in New Zealand never had the budget for prolonged stints in the larger series and thus suffered a fragmented career in single seaters. He showed enough promise to warrant Marko’s attention, but at the time the Junior Team was a smaller outfit, and consisted only of providing F1 test opportunities and introducing drivers to junior team bosses, not helping with series fees. Despite impressing in F1 tests, Brendon continued to struggle to gather sponsors and was dropped: never has a driver’s Wikipedia page been less representative of his abilities.

          His promotion to Porsche was something of a surprise, and whilst he has been the slower of the #20 crew, he was expected to be, and has certainly exceeded expectations in 2014.

          1. He was RBR reserve in 2010 until he criticized Red Bull for telling him how to style his hair, he was dropped the next day.

          2. As a Kiwi with a life that circles around Motorsport, I wouldn’t say it’s not a big culture, because it is. It’s just that it’s more of a V8SC culture, rather than an Open Wheel nation.

            Despite us having one of the best Open Wheel categories for Juniors around the world.

      2. Hülkenberg was dropped by Williams, Perez by McLaren, Kobayashi by Sauber. It happens every year, it’s not Red Bull’s fault their ‘dropouts’ aren’t picked up by other teams.

  6. Better than being a seventeen-year old’s coach anyway…

    Haha, that’s exactly what I was thinking when Kvyat got promoted to RBR, why would he (JEV) want to stay in Toro Rosso for yet another year, the bosses would just be using him to train his teammate, it would’ve been a waste of time.

    So yeah, I think it’s better for him to leave F1 altogether for now and who knows, he’s young enough that in a couple of years he might come back like Grosjean did.

    1. I don’t think he’ll come back in F1 but I’d love to see him fighting other talented drivers in Indycar or WEC.

  7. I mentioned something similar on a round-up a day or two ago, I think, but as important as qualifying is, race results matter more. Look no further than Mercedes. Yes qualifying matters. Points matter more. One could argue, I guess, that if Vergne qualified better that he might have even better race finishes. But you know what helps qualifying, being in a better car. Like RBR vs SRT.

    In addition, Vergne beat Ricciardo in 2012 on points, despite 4 retirements to 1. And while he was down to Ricciardo by a similar margin in 2013, he had 5 retirements to 2. Total head to head points was 29 to 30, Vergne being down 1 over two seasons. I’m not saying Vergne should have been promoted over Ricciardo. But I am saying that I think he deserves a seat over others who have been promoted to both RBR and SRT this year.

  8. Vegne doesn’t have a lot of chance.

  9. I can’t emphasise enough how huge an underdog Daniil Kvyat has been in the second half of 2014.

    Didn’t score after Spa, but he had quite a few giant-killing, almost Vettel 2008-esque performances after that.

    In Monza, he had the aforementioned grid penalty, but his race pace was exceptional (check back the graphs) and only a late race brake problem kept him from scoring a 7th-9th place.

    In Singapore, he had his drink problem and despite this he was once again lurking just outside the top 10 with a few laps to go before his pace dropped off as he likely went way beyond his limits physically and mentally.

    In Suzuka, he was on course for another points finish before the second, and final red flag fell at a bad time for him. (He just did his second of his two pit stops on a day when, judging by pace, the two-stoppers would have held the advantage, had the race ran its 53-lap length.)

    Finally, Abu Dhabi should have really yielded his perhaps best ever finish of his rookie season before his engine let go in the early stages, while running great pace on par with the best cars behind the Mercedes and the Williams.

    A huge potential went unnoticed by the points standings.

    1. @atticus-2
      Yes, I observed it and even RBR would be happy with his performances despite reliability issues. this shows how wonderful kid is this Young Russian.
      And most importantly he never did mistakes a bit like Kevin did.

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