Sainz departs on a high as Toro Rosso hit reset again

2017 F1 season review

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Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost tends to shoot from the hip. But the broadside fired at engine supplier Renault during the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend was fiery even by his standards.

It came as reliability problems wrecked the end of their season. With six races to go they had been within seven points of passing Williams and hitting Tost’s pre-season target of fifth in the constructors’ championship.

Toro Rosso team stats 2017

Best race result (number)4 (1)
Best grid position (number) 6 (1)
Non-classifications (technical/other) 12 (7/5)
Laps completed (% of total) 1,873 (77.91%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2016)7 (7)
Championship points (2016)53 (63)
Pit stop performance ranking6

A string of failures, mostly down to the power unit, meant Toro Rosso took just one point from the final six rounds. As a result, they were pipped to sixth at the final round by the very team whose engines had repeatedly let them down.

Tost saw it coming, and made not-too-subtle insinuations in Brazil about how Toro Rosso’s engine problems suited Renault very nicely.

His mood can’t have been helped by a late overhaul in the team’s line-up which saw star performer Carlos Sainz Jnr packed off to Renault. This was part of a deal which also sees Toro Rosso lose the French engines in favour of the only motors which have proved less powerful and less reliable: Honda’s. He said farewell to the team by equalling their best result since Sebastian Vettell’s 2008 victory at Monza.

Around the same time Red Bull finally saw fit to eject Daniil Kvyat. Never the same driver since his mid-season ejection from Red Bull last year, he contributed just five points to the team’s tally, the last coming on his one-off return in Austin.

The decision to retain Kvyat at the beginning of the was questionable. Sainz had beaten him handily in 2016 and his experience would have worked well alongside a rookie, such as the upcoming Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly.

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But financial pressures are weighing ever more heavily on Red Bull’s second team. Sean Gelael, who hasn’t won a single-seater race for five years, did not get four practice session runs for the team because he is a star of the future.

Kvyat triggered Red Bull Ring crash
With Sainz and Kvyat on their way out Toro Rosso belatedly turned to Gasly. The choice of second driver was one of the year’s big surprises. Brendon Hartley, who had been a Red Bull junior seven years previously, was called up. The World Endurance Champion hadn’t driven a single-seater for five years and had to fit his F1 appearances in between his final drives for Porsche’s LMP1 squad.

As it limped to the end of the season Toro Rosso can only wonder what might have been had Sainz and Kvyat behind the wheel and the STR12 had been more reliable. When Sainz was not a victim of mechanical problems his consistent points finishes bagged almost all of the team’s 53 points.

The inexperience of the new pairing ultimately mattered little as the team posted five DNFs from the final seven races. With spare Renault parts in increasingly short supply the cars seemed to be running at lower power to get to the finish – hence the team’s woeful qualifying performance in Abu Dhabi. A stack of power unit change penalties exacerbated their problems.

This remains a team with the capability to punch well above its weight, though next year much will rest on the performance of Honda. One key piece of positive news for the team during 2017 was the re-signing of highly-rated designer James Key. But however good a chassis he pens it will count for little if the car doesn’t make it to the chequered flag.

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16 comments on “Sainz departs on a high as Toro Rosso hit reset again”

  1. What if Honda finally put their act together? What if now without a star driver, without pressure and partnering with a more modest team, they can actually develop the engine?

    1. I envy you to still have some hope about the Honda engine. I gave up but it would be a nice surprise!

    2. @lubhz

      Do you think Toro Rosso would field their weakest driver line up ever if they had any faith in Honda? They know Honda is a disaster next season, so they kept poor drivers in the car and pray that Honda develop well over the year, so that the Red Bull racing team can have a decent engine supply in 2019.

      This season was a write off for Toro Rosso as soon as they signed on Honda.

      1. Gasly and Hartley are champions in other classes.
        Their performance in the last few races is hard to measure, as Renault did not seem to put their best effort in the PUs for Toro Rosso knowing they will use Honda engines next year.

  2. Not a great deal of hope for Toro Rosso in the new season from me… already slipping backwards, they’re now swapping out an unreliable engine for a slower and even more unreliable one.

    I’m keen to see what the driver pairing can do given a clean weekend though as they’ve been plagued with grid penalties and unreliability since starting this year.

    1. I’m keen to see what the driver pairing can do given a clean weekend

      @ben-n – Mmm, good point. Maybe RBR could put both of them in the Red Bulls for FP1, for a few races? Give them a taste of the senior team, and also assess them against a good baseline, one that also includes the current RBR drivers.

      1. I just can’t see that happening if Red Bull have half a chance at competing for wins. I also can’t see Verstappen/Ricciardo being willing to step aside and Red Bull need to keep them happy to prevent them heading to Ferrari/Mercedes.

        Of course, if the Honda is accidentally exceptional, you may get the switch for a different reason!

      2. @phylyp
        Realistically I don’t think either of Toro Rosso’s drivers are there as backups for Red Bull. If they saw any potential in Gasly he would have been in the car from the start of the season instead of Kvyat.

        No, I think they’re there to be the guinea pigs for a possible engine swap for the big team. If it turns out they’re way off the pace there’s no great loss if their career is damaged (as far as Red Bull see it), but they’re both solid drivers with good technical feedback who should be able to reel out the laps and help the engineers get to grips with the engine.

  3. If you had intention of winning races or even trying to win races you would be insane to voluntarily choose a Honda engine.

    If you are not trying to win then what is the point, why are you there, why should we watch you?

    This is another part of the general problem with F1, teams who have no intention of competing just sat there taking up space on the grid or providing a live training / advertising platform.

    1. Well, you know, a lot of teams in history has been a part of F1 just for passion.
      Or, as you may put it, acting like advertising platforms.
      All of them worked their a** off for trying to close with the top, sometimes they succeeded, sometimes not, but still they provided a much needed spectacle.
      If there was room only for major teams, we would have a six car grid.
      The main issue is, if anything, the way RB group manages the two outfits it owns..

  4. >When Sainz was not a victim of mechanical problems his consistent points finishes bagged almost all of the team’s 53 points.

    Remarkable how even professional motorsports journalists are vulnerable to collective misremembering. Sainz had no fewer than three DNF’s that were entirely his own fault: Bahrain (taking Stroll with him in the process), Canada (taking out Grosjean and Massa), and Japan (once in practice and again in the first lap of the race).

    In contrast Kvyat had precisely one DNF due to crashing, in Singapore. And he saw many, many more mechanical problems than Sainz did over the season. The treatment of Kvyat, not only by Red Bull but by a blatantly biased media has been appalling. You have one job to do: report the events of the season as accurately as possible. If that means going race by race and seeing what exactly caused each DNF or poor result for each driver you do it. You don’t just report the zeitgeist.

    1. The line you quoted states neither that Sainz was never involved in any incidents nor that Kvyat was involved in more than him.

      So this entire rant is baseless.

  5. It’s almost time for James Key to find a job on a top team, IMHO.
    Don’t know why he chose to stay at TR, maybe he hoped to fill at RB in a much hyped Newey’s departure.
    Ferrari could potentially be very interesting in him for the near future.

  6. Well I have a theory that although Renault passed them in the Constructors and got the extra millions…I reckon that there would have been a deal done to give the extra back to Torro Rosso…and the reason why….there are very good business men running both outfits..Torro Rosso would know that by releasing Sainz(who is still there driver) to Renault that there would be more of a good chance of losing that constructors place, and the extra cash, so it would be foolhardy not to stipulate that Renault would have to give back the extra…Renault without Sainz stood probably no chance of catching them, so it would be a good agreement to reach and a win win for both teams..

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