Toro Rosso exclusive: “I was convinced Honda are in a better position”

2018 F1 season preview: Toro Rosso

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Is this the team which will produce the biggest surprise of 2018?

Toro Rosso’s hopes for the new season were written off by many when the team announced it would yet again change engines for the new season. For the third year running the team has a new supplier.

Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
Toro Rosso’s reliability surprised the paddock in testing
But of course it wasn’t the fact they were changing, but who they were teaming up with, which prompted dim assessments of Toro Rosso’s 2018 prospects. Not only had Honda been dropped by McLaren, but Sauber too. The latter swiftly terminated its Honda engine supply soon after new team principal Frederic Vasseur was installed.

According to team principal Franz Tost any impression that the team is the unwilling recipient of F1’s least-wanted engine is untrue. “Toro Rosso was in contact with Honda since 2014 onwards,” he told RaceFans in an exclusive interview.

And, he points out, “I’m not sure that we would have continued with Renault after what happened last year.”

Toro Rosso’s fall-out with Renault last year was the stuff off gold for conspiracy theorists. Soon after their Honda deal was announced, and following Carlos Sainz Jnr’s superb drive to fourth in Singapore, Toro Rosso’s hold on sixth place in the constructors’ championship was compromised by a series of power unit problems. And the chief beneficiary of their apparent misfortune was Renault’s works team, who displaced them from sixth at the final round.

The signs from testing, where Toro Rosso covered more laps than any of the Renault-powered teams, are encouraging. Tost insists their early reliability, in stark contrast to McLaren’s experience with Honda 12 months ago, has not come as a shock.

“I’m not so surprised because I was convinced that Honda is in a much better position as it was mentioned last year,” he said.

“Apart from this Honda worked during the winter months on the performances as well as on the reliability side. So far they have done a very successful job and we are quite satisfied about that co-operation.”

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That co-operation runs far deeper than anything Toro Rosso has experienced in its 13-year existence, during which time it has always been an engine customer. Taking on a factory-backed deal is “a completely different way of working,” Tost explains, which has particular benefits as current power units are so complex.

“For example, how the engine is being designed to fit the best possible way into the chassis. That means Toro Rosso can bring a lot of input there: we want it this way, oil and water pipes being designed in a way which fits very well with the complete chassis system or the exhaust system. These are very important factors for the performance of the car because it influences the weight distribution, it influences the aerodynamic, the mechanical side.

Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
Works engine deal brings car development advantages
“From this point of view we had a very busy and successful winter period because it was the first [time] Toro Rosso designers could come up with issues. In the past we just got the power unit, some electric boxes and just find a way to fit it into the car. Now we can come up with proposals, suggestions from our side which makes the life much easier. And hopefully more successful.”

They can also plan ahead. “I expect a lot from next year’s car because we are already working on this,” said Tost. “Because of the experience we have already got this year our designers and the designers from Honda can optimise the integration of the power unit into the car.”

“In the past we always had to fit in a last [minute] engine decision within a few weeks. Now we start already in February thinking about next year’s car.”

It’s not just the relationship with Honda which is new. The team has the least experienced driver line-up in the pit lane, a situation it is well used to, as Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly have just nine F1 starts to their name.

Hartley, of course, brings his World Endurance Championship-winning pedigree to the team. But Gasly arguably should already have a year’s experience in the car. Red Bull passed up on the chance to promote him to F1 on the back of his 2016 GP2 championship win, preferring instead to retain Daniil Kvyat for another season. Kvyat’s form failed to improve, and Gasly replaced him before the year was out.

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Tost says the delay in getting Gasly in the car was not a source of frustration. “I think Pierre learnt a lot in Japan: Super Formula is a very competitive series.”

“Last year we had two very good drivers with Carlos Sainz Jnr and Daniil Kvyat. Therefore the decision which Red Bull has taken in those cases was OK.”

Toro Rosso, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
The team has two inexperienced drivers again
With no immediate successor ready in Red Bull’s Junior Team pipeline, both Gasly and Hartley must fancy their chances at getting a chance to drive the second-generation Toro Rosso-Honda next year. “Let’s do this season as successful as possible, then we’ll talk about next year,” said Tost when asked. “Currently there are no discussions about any driver for 2019.”

The move away from Renault has brought the added complication that the team can no longer share as many parts with Red Bull because they once again have different engine suppliers. But this may change next year if Red Bull does switch to the Japanese power units, as it has indicated it might.

In the meantime, what can Toro Rosso realistically aim for this season? F1’s sole Honda-powered team ended last year ninth, but Tost believes they must aim higher.

“If you look last year in the middle of the season we were two points behind Williams. Then Singapore was OK but all the rest of the races we were really struggling with reliability issues, as we know.

“We lost sixth position in the last race. There were some aspects which were not under our control. And then it’s difficult. Last year without any problems we could have easily finished in the sixth place. Even without all the problems in the second half of the year we could have fought for the fifth place.

“If you were half a season there that means it’s not totally [unlikely]. But once more our development steps were OK but not as good as from our direct competitors. And we had too many reliability issues which were not coming from our side.

“This year we have a new car, we have a new power unit. We have two new drivers, we have new tyres. We have to find out. I have to get a better pictures after the first three races. But nevertheless Toro Rosso must be in a position to fight in the front part of the midfield.”

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Author information

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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19 comments on “Toro Rosso exclusive: “I was convinced Honda are in a better position””

  1. It really would be hard to imagine a fourth straight year for Honda to be as bad as they’ve been over the last three, to have yet again made no progress or gone backwards yet again, but I sure understand why Mac couldn’t take that chance when they had to decide mid last year, when they were still very much in the doldrums.

    1. People were saying the same thing last year as well. Wait and see. Last year ferrari bounced back from nowhere as well so it is not impossible. Although ferrari’s issues were nowhere near honda’s catastrophe.

      1. @socksolid The issues one can’t compare but back in 2014, almost, at least in terms of performance it was below Honda even, hence the rumours Mercedes helped Ferrari for 2015. I recall 2014 Abu Dhabi, Alonso late on trying to lap Will Stevens, Fernando got a lot better traction out of the corner but midway through the pass Will Stevens Caterham Renault, not only was not overtaken but he gained time on Alonso. I believe Ferrari’s weak PU in 2014 was what made him waive his option to stay with Ferrari.

    2. I suspect Honda were the scapegoat for at least some of McLaren’s 2017 pre-season test session problems. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Honda are better off without McLaren, but I think the move to Toro Rosso was good for their involvement in F1. I am pleased to see Toro Rosso’s pre-season testing was hindered by the weather and minor Toro Rosso problems, not Honda problems.
      If McLaren want the world to believe they are on top of their game while having basic reliability problems, like using cheap 2 pound bolts when anyone else would use one over-rated for that job, then that is their choice, but the more often they have those problems the more likely people will start to believe they were unfairly blaming Honda for their own ineptitude.

  2. Franz Tost is the one guy I never believe what he says in public for two reasons:
    1) He sometimes says some funny things that are not true
    2) Poor buggar knows if he talks up someone too much Red Bull will just take them. Every driver that Red Bull take “are not quite ready yet” as he needed them for a little longer. Except for Kyvat as when Seb left they promoted him right away with no review (Side point: Ferrari or Mercedes would never have done that, promote a driver with little consideration and, as it seems, discussion with the driver himself). Daniil was next in line and Marko made it happen (broke his career really).

    1. Best thing a bout franz tost is that he punched scott speed in the face.

  3. I’d love to be proved wrong but I fear the best engine Honda could make in the current conditions is always going to be slower than a Mercedes and Ferrari power unit, purely because they will always be 2 years behind in development and still only have 1 team running/developing the engine. Doing lots of laps 2 seconds of the pace in testing is still a car that will be lapped in most of the 2018 Grand Prix’s.

    1. Yeah for sure, and truly wouldn’t everyone be even more shocked if they were suddenly competitive this season, than they have been that they could do so poorly for 3 straight seasons?

  4. So far so good. Can’t wait until next week to judge Honda’s performance.

    1. True, and in fairness we should keep in mind that this is the first season of this marriage, just as it is for McRenault.

  5. Unless Red Bull becomes WCC this year I see their relationship with Renault over. 2019 Red Bull – Honda. I am excited for TR to have this Honda deal. After 4 years Honda must get something right…

  6. petebaldwin (@)
    15th March 2018, 17:22

    Having seen the rear of the Toro Rosso vs the rear of the McLaren from the last few years, it’s clear Toro Rosso are doing everything they can to help Honda rather than making an already difficult job more difficult.

    They started later and have much less data to work with (only 2 power units on the grid vs 6 for the rest). This deal is going to be good for both parties – McLaren will benefit from a more reliable engine and Honda can work with a team willing to compromise on performance to help Honda (and ultimately, RBR).

    1. Having seen the rear of the Toro Rosso vs the rear of the McLaren from the last few years, it’s clear Toro Rosso are doing everything they can to help Honda rather than making an already difficult job more difficult.


      Spot on. They’ve openly admitted that they’re letting Honda build an engine and focus their chassis around that. McLaren can’t really adopt that same approach. They have to make up for the power deficit by pushing the design on chassis and cooling. So, as you mentioned, in 2018 it works well for both Toro Rosso and McLaren. McLaren have a better engine to work with, so they can not push the limits to failures every weekend and Toro Rosso can help Honda develop a reliable engine and get the works partnership benefits. Eventually, Toro Rosso is also being used as a Honda test bed for RBR, so results aren’t necessarily the most important thing for them this season.

      I think McLaren will definitely finish higher than 9th in the championship. 4th or 5th seems really realistic, which is a step up for them. Toro Rosso, should be fighting for 7th or 8th, which is similar to last season, but they get to develop Honda as a viable option for RBR in 2019. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

  7. I understood that Honda last year had a outside contractor helping them with their engine…..certainly the last few races showed better reliability…but Alonso still complained of a lack of horsepower…when he wasn’t fuel saving….so if the engine stays reliable this season…they still have a lack of grunt to address….yes they ran well in testing, but they were not fuel saving, and we are not sure how many engines were used…..but I expect Torro Rosso to show some form at some tracks this season as Honda gets to grips with their engine……….and T R get to grips with their drivers

  8. Remember that lap that put Alonso top of the times in Q1?

    Yep. Remember that when comparing performances to STR’s testing performance. That tweaked 2017 PU is “OK”. They’re not going to be beating Merc, Ferrari or Renault power on a regular basis. Other than Sauber, maybe…

  9. It is always nice to see more manufacturers in F1, especially Honda. What I dream of is to BMW comeback (with Williams maybe) and Force India take over by VAG group and launch Bugatti in beautiful vintage blue racing livery…
    I really hope that will happen (maybe from 2020-21 after the engine regulations change). Can you guys imagine this situation?
    Silver arrows (Mercedes), Ferrari, Alfa Romeo Sauber, Renault, Red Bull Honda, papaya orange McLaren, Williams BMW and blue Bugatti? All together on the start line in Monaco… Wow!
    I want to see that…

  10. The only significant metric from the testing for T.R is that the engine appears to be reliable. From a performance perspective I’ll be looking forward to the first grand prix.
    Judging by some of the comments from Tost the collaboration with Honda has been a good one thus far and it’s also clear that Tost seems sore over the manner in which they lost 6th last year to Renault…

  11. Sergey Martyn
    16th March 2018, 16:26

    They have ruined Alonso’s career, so who cares abouit Hartley and Gasly? Kill ’em all – let’s Honda sort them out!
    I’ve already bought ear protection devices to save my hearing from the mighty Honda blow at Australian GP.

  12. “I’m not sure that we would have continued with Renault after what happened last year.”

    To me this sounds like it’s more than just the Renault was unreliable..

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