Promising season ahead for Toro Rosso after Ferrari switch

2016 F1 season preview

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Last year Toro Rosso, a team which once raced Red Bull hand-me-downs, produced a chassis which receive admiring glances from rival teams’ aerodynamicists.

Had the team had something other than Renault’s flaky Energy F1 power unit in the back it might have enjoyed a spectacular season, but the team was hamstrung by poor straight-line speed and unreliability.

The team ran a blank livery at the first test
For 2016 they will use a proven, 2015-specification Ferrari. This represents a significant step forward over what they had last year and presents an opportunity for the team to make big progress. Team principal Franz Tost – always one to set stretching targets – wants the team to move up two places in the constructors’ championship to fifth and expects them to get at least one podium finish.

However they have had very little time to prepare for the change, which includes integrating the power unit with a Red Bull-sourced gearbox. The differences in size, layout, cooling requirements, electronics and software all make a late change of engine supplier an unappealing prospect.

Toro Rosso pushed their deadlines to the limit while still being able to get the STR11 on-track in time for the start of testing – albeit largely unpainted. Nonetheless it covered more ground than any team bar Mercedes, leading Tost to Tost to describe it as being “much better than expected”.

Technical director James Key said the team’s participation in testing was in doubt just weeks before they were due at the track. “We had our first technical meeting with Ferrari at the start of December,” he explained.

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“We have been able to run reliably from the outset and all the systems surrounding the power unit installation and the rest of the car, much of which is substantially different to its predecessor, have worked as predicted.”

The car again demonstrates an impressive degree of aerodynamic refinement for a team of Toro Rosso’s resources. As the new engine can be expected to be reliable from the off, it’s no wonder Red Bull are keeping a wary eye on the progress of their junior team.

Toro Rosso exists to funnel new talent up to the top team but there is arguably less pressure from below on their two drivers than usual. The next nearest driver to F1 promotion on the Red Bull Junior Team is Pierre Gasly. The GP2 driver hasn’t won a race in the last two years, so it would be a surprise if he suddenly emerged as a contender to replace either of Toro Rosso’s drivers in 2017.

With a promising chassis, a much more reliable power unit and a pair of exciting drivers, Toro Rosso could be about to enjoy their best season for years.

33: Max Verstappen

Verstappen’s first season in F1 last year went a long way towards justifying the hype which surrounded F1’s youngest ever driver (a record he is unlikely to lose due to subsequent rules changes). This will only be his third year of car racing since graduating from karts, and he’ll still be a teenager at the season finale. How much progress will he have made by then?

55: Carlos Sainz Jnr

Though it would be a stretch to call him as exciting a talent as Verstappen, Sainz had a strong debut campaign which was blighted by poor reliability. Between him and Verstappen this may well be Toro Rosso’s strongest driver pairing to date.

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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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27 comments on “Promising season ahead for Toro Rosso after Ferrari switch”

  1. The thing about Toro Rosso is that they’re going to have last year’s engines – can those be developed in-season like the 2016s? Would Ferrari even bother?

    If not, expect them to have it a bit rougher as the year goes on.

    1. The word is Ferrari won’t update the 2015 unit anymore.

      I doubt if it will fall behind (a lot), the egines are about at the end of the curve, under these strict rules they other teams won’t just find 20-40 BHP over a season. The 2015 spec has been a great engine, in the TR good for getting close to the podium and that’s exactly where TR is aiming to be.

      The Renault engine lacked much more power and didn’t have any update all 2015, yet TR did not fall (further) behind while RBR even climbed during the season.

      My conclusion TR will be starting the 2016 with better perspective than ever before, let’s hope they can move forward towards RBR, FI and Williams, I am in no doubt they will!

      1. I’m not so sure it’s the end of the curve for the engines. In fact Andy Cowell(head of Merc HPE) had said that it’s just the beginning and they keep finding gains with the engine

        So I agree with @glenjamin. STR may lose relative performance toward the second half of the season

    2. The MGU-H is almost as important as the engine, and as far as I know there isn’t anything to stop this being updated. F1 is a fuel flow restricted series, so a power gain is by increasing efficiency. Since the engine is a 2015 spec engine, I wouldn’t expect the engine itself to be updated, otherwise it would become a 2016 engine.
      I guess we will see something akin to what happened to Brawn GP, where they got their best results early in the season.

  2. The current situation is perfect for Toro Rosso’s purpose. They have a solid base to work with, and aerodynamically sound car, and a good platform to develop their drivers from. This year they should be able to do that is the most optimal way: Using a reliable engine will make comparing the drivers more fair. Being at the front of the midfield competing with several good teams will challange the drivers, and improve their racing ability. Also a better position in the WCC will help financially, since they’ve lost some sponsors over the winter. Overall one of the most exciting teams at the moment!

    1. The problem I can see, is this team is part of their development program for their senior team, but I can’t see there being any vacancies. Unless they decide in two years that one of them is clearly better than one of the senior drivers, what will they do with them? The only thing I can think is if one of them decides to jump ship, but I don’t see that happening yet.

      1. @strontium I agree to a certain extent, but that would be a luxary problem wouldn’t it? Personally I kind of expect Riccardo to convincingly beat Kvyat this year and the latter to be replaced by Verstappen. Kvyat didn’t impress me last year to be honest. Ricciardo was plagued by bad luck, otherwise he’d won the team battle.

        Also there is the long-shot possibility of Rosberg leaving Mercedes, in which case Ricciardo would be a great candidate to replace him.

  3. Great looking, reliable car and great drivers. RBR may be looking at their tail lights in the first half of the season

  4. I can see both Red Bull and Toro Rosso having stronger seasons and even fighting for 3rd and 4th in the constructors as the season goes on. Toro Rosso will perhaps have an edge on Red Bull in the early stages of the season with the ‘TAG Heuer’ engine still a bit down on power.

    It looks to be a very impressive car and it has been praised by many. James Key was a huge signing for them. It would be great to see Verstappen and Sainz having a reliable car and fighting further up the field.

    1. What I’m wondering is what kind of a Renault engine the TAG Heuer engine really is. Is it just last years Renault engine? If so, will it be updated by Renault? Or is it the same (newer) 2016 spec engine that the Renault team itself is using?

      1. @addvariety It’s a 2016 Renault engine, same as the factory team.

        1. @keithcollantine Thanks, that definitely leaves more room for RBR to grow and probably overtake TR in the championship later on. Although it would quite a stunt to see TR beat the sister team for once.

          1. @addvariety STR has beat the sister team once, so I think you mean “Although it would quite a stunt to see TR beat the sister team for twice.”

    2. I think it is a mistake to think of this team as a junior team, I would expect TR to consider themselves (at least internally anyway) as being serious WCC and WDC material, and there isn’t any reason why they couldn’t. The only disadvantage they have is the engine itself can’t be updated, everything else can.

      1. @drycrust, I don’t think that’s the case. Dieterich Mateschitz surely adjusts financial support to the team for it to be right there were they can educate their rookie’s, but aren’t in the way of the A-team.

        1. @me4me 2008 comes to mind, though.

  5. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    9th March 2016, 14:19

    After a quietly excellent season in 2015 marred by the unreliability of their Renault powertrain, a 2016 season with a race-winning PU will be an interesting platform for their two, young sensations (and yes, I think Sainz was on several occasions, sensational in 2015).

    If what was promised by testing rings true, and the field spread has condensed relative to last year, then the task of meeting Tost’s ambition and reaching the podium can be placed squarely on the shoulders of Verstappen and Sainz. If not, you can’t help but feel that the top positions will be sufficiently locked out by Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and an extremely competitive looking VJM09, to prevent a podium bar the kind action-packed races so often lacking in 2015.

  6. If I’m not mistaken, Tost has stated that only the first half of the season will present point-scoring opportunities because of the degradation in performance as other teams enhance their engines.

    1. Sure, but that’s also the easy/political way to cover yourself for too high expectations during the year.

  7. I find it weird to think that Verstappen and Sainz have the same amount of experience as Kvyat did this time last year!

  8. I was pondering that even if Ferrari would have allowed STR to use their 2016 engine, because STR committed to using Ferrari power very late, they almost had to use a 2015 engine. Apparently, they were designing the Ferrari PU version of the car based on photographs of the 2015 Ferrari PU, which they said was pretty close to accurate. They wouldn’t have been able to do this with an unseen 2016 Ferrari PU.

    1. ColdFly F1 (@)
      9th March 2016, 18:19

      @tim-m, not sure how much is true about the photograph design story.
      Ferrari provides engines to Sauber and Haas (the 2016) version, and those teams were able to design a car around it. I can only assume that Ferrari sends them detailed CAD-files with dimension and connection points.
      They might even be able to send a mock-up (e.g 3d printed version)
      If they can do this for a 2016 PU in development, for sure they can do it for an existing PU!

      1. @coldfly, according to James Key, they did indeed use photographs:

        1. ColdFly F1 (@)
          9th March 2016, 21:00

          while waiting for confirmation of the deal

          i.e. before November.
          That makes sense; very smart indeed.
          Thanks @tim-m

  9. James Key is the man.

  10. I have have high hopes here. One of best chassis in 2015.. Coupled with decent engine. They should finish ahead of renaults and hondas… Maybe right in fight for 3-5th place. Maybe take on SFI.

  11. I’m wondering if I’m completely off-base by thinking Red Bull (as a whole, mateschitz and co) will be using the strength of Torro Rosso a) as a bargaining chip to further talk about how bad renaults engines are to further the argument for some kind of standardisation/ballast between the engines and b) as a reason to drop a Red Bull driver. Regardless of the weakness of the engine if one of the RBR’s gets beaten by the TR’s and the other doesn’t, that would be a pretty big internal reason to point the figure and go “you’re out” getting assumedly Verstappen up to the better cars for 2017.

    Just seems strange that the Torro Rosso even looks more like a “Red Bull” car than even the Red Bull does, seems to strengthen the argument to me that they are hoping/expecting a lot of air time on it.

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