Toro Rosso finished the 2012 Formula One season in ninth place with 26 points. Taking out the "new teams," they were last—a massive 50 points behind the next worst team.
That kind of end result wasn't entirely unexpected, as the team was running two very inexperienced drivers. Daniel Ricciardo had 11 starts for HRT to his name, while Jean-Eric Vergne had zero.
Now that they have a bit more running under their belts, improvements are expected.
The team is unique in that it exists for the purpose of assisting another. It's owned by Red Bull (Toro Rosso is Red Bull in Italian), and it's the place its parent sends young drivers to see if they have what it takes.
That aside, Toro Rosso exists as an independent constructor, and doesn't officially get anything in the way of a helping hand from Red Bull.
See the gulf in performance between the two as proof of this particular pudding.
In practice for the Australian Grand Prix, the STR8 looked very impressive in the damp conditions. It's no doubt a very good car on a wet track.
Sadly it doesn't often rain in the world of F1, so the priority has to be dry-weather pace.
In the races the car looks like it can compete with others in the midfield. In Australia they spent most of the race equaling or beating the pace of Williams, Sauber and (an anomaly it seems, but it happened) McLaren.
Malaysia went reasonably well too, and the team got their first points on the board. Tyre usage looked good (both drivers three-stopped) and Vergne set the fourth fastest lap.
But—like the STR7 last year—the car isn't yet doing the job in qualifying.
There's a belief among in the team that they should be challenging to get into Q3, and if they can manage that, the car currently looks capable of scoring consistent points all year.
Last season was the first full year in the sport for both men, and so far neither has shown enough to make them serious contenders for a seat at the big table (the main Red Bull team).
To make things a little more interesting, a good season in Formula Renault 3.5 for current Red Bull Junior Team driver Antonio Felix da Costa (who took part in the Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test for Red Bull last year) could see one of their seats threatened for 2014.
And getting dropped from Toro Rosso tends to be an F1 career-killer—just ask Scott Speed, Sebastien Bourdais, Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi. No other Red Bull Juniors look close to F1, but the pressure's certainly on one of the seats.
Vergne has had the most success thus far, racing to 12th at the flag (in the same group as a Lotus and the McLarens) in Australia from a disappointing starting place of 17th.
In Malaysia he was released from a pit stop into the path of Caterham's Charles Pic. The two collided, and Vergne lost almost half a minute as he was pushed back into his pit box for a new nose.
In spite of this setback he came home in 10th, ahead of Williams' Bottas and Sauber's Gutierrez. A very positive start to the season.
Driving the other car, Daniel Ricciardo has had a bit of a disaster.
In Australia he retired with an exhaust problem after running very slowly at the start of the race (though he did speed up a bit later).
And in Malaysia, damage to his car's floor after an off-track excursion on the installation lap (the usually problem-free lap from the pits to the grid—the damp track caught him out here) saw him struggle for pace.
He retired the car a few laps from the end, and was classified 18th. Not a good start when your seat is probably on the line, but he should turn it around.
Toro Rosso have a bit more security than the other teams around their position, supported as they are by the very wealthy Red Bull company. But they're not exactly awash with cash.
Their place in the world seems to be as perpetual midfielders—so their season-on-season target is beating the rest of the midfield (this time out we'd say that's Sauber, Williams and Force India) for sixth in the Constructors' Championship.
Looking at 2013 so far, it seems unlikely Vergne and Ricciardo in Toro Rossos can better Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil in the Force Indias, making seventh a realistic goal.
If they can qualify better (and it's not just the car that needs to do a job here, it's the drivers too), there's no reason they can't achieve that.
But at the same time, there's no reason Sauber and Williams can't achieve it either.
The STR8 and its drivers are better than last year's package, so they should end the year somewhere around the 50-60 point mark. Where that will place them, only time will tell.