One of the stories of the season has been the increasingly strong form of Toro Rosso.
Of particular note has been the alarming rate that Toro Rosso have caught up with big sister Red Bull, and now overtaken them in the Constructors championship.
Red Bull have slid down in the grid in comparison to Toro Rosso’s recent rise.
Here are the two teams' positions in the Constructor's championship after the Singapore GP?
6. Toro Rosso: 31 points
7. Red Bull: 28 points
Fernando Alonso recently said he thought that Toro Rosso were now the third-best team in Formula 1. Looking at current form, it’s not that easy to disagree with him.
So why are Toro Rosso outperforming Red Bull at the moment?
There are four main contributing factors:
- Same chassis and technologies as the main Red Bull team
- Strong Ferrari engine (compared to the Renault engine Red Bull have)
- Better team spirit and hunger/motivation
- Stronger driver pairing
Lets look at these four factors in more detail one by one.
Same chassis and technologies as Red Bull
Toro Rosso benefit hugely as effectively a customer team to Red Bull. Both teams’ chassis are developed by Adrian Newey-led technologies. So before Toro Rosso start work, they already have a very good base to work with.
The only real change they have to make from the Red Bull car, are a few alterations in order to accommodate the Ferrari engine. This arrangement is legal for the moment but will be outlawed in 2010.
This saves Toro Rosso a lot of money and time compared to Force India, who build their whole car on a limited budget. However Toro Rosso still have to make the most of their package and optimize it fully.
When it comes to race weekends, they have to test the car and find the right setup. This is something they have appeared to be very good at throughout the season.
Very often the small team that Toro Rosso have, have managed to find more time from their package than Red Bull. This has been leaving the main Red Bull team scratching their heads in the process.
Notably at the start of the season, Toro Rosso opted to use last season’s car to allow them more time to understand the current car. They used the new car for the first time at Monaco after having gotten a better grasp on the car. Vettel finished fifth in that race and the season has been a steep upward rise from then on.
Torro Rosso have a Ferrari engine, whilst Red Bull are customers of Renault in the engine department. The main Red Bull team opted to use Renault engines and give the Ferrari engines to their sister team, Toro Rosso, at the end of 2006.
It was definitely the right thing to do at the time. Renault had become one of the best engines in F1, whilst Red Bull were struggling to adapt to the Ferrari engine and had issues with it, particularly with cooling, which dogged their 2006 season.
However the shift in balance has completely changed this season between the Renault and Ferrari engines. When the engine freeze started (restricting development on engines), Renault were definitely a touch ahead of Ferrari.
However, Ferrari have been clever and found loopholes in the rules and have found little things they can improve on the engine. Therefore, they have been able to squeeze out some extra horsepower.
Ferrari haven’t broken the rules though. They simply asked Charlie Whiting (F1 Race Director) what they are allowed to change/adjust and what they must leave untouched.
Renault simply haven’t taken the initiative to do this. They are therefore lagging behind on horsepower, affecting both the Renault team itself and customers Red Bull.
This means that Ferrari have been able to make a few key improvements (within the rules) and gain extra horsepower which have given Toro Rosso three- or four-tenths of a second worth of performance at some race tracks over the main Red Bull team, whose Renault engine is now behind on development.
Red Bull and Toro Rosso have been in the tight midfield pack all season, along with other teams like: Renault, Toyota, Williams and at times challenging BMW Sauber. This pack are only separated by mere tenths of a second (The whole grid is in fact only covered by less than 2.0 seconds).
This means that the few tenths that Toro Rosso have gained from the improvements sneaked into the engine has moved them from the back of the midfield to the front of the midfield. Only a few tenths are required to do this. It’s been that tight!
Ferrari gave Toro Rosso their updated engine in time for the Hungarian GP. There is a strong correlation between the arrival of this new Ferrari engine and further improved results.
Recently we had three very fast circuits in a row: the new street circuit in Valencia, Monza and Spa. A great engine at these tracks will give you an even bigger advantage than it would at normal circuits. This is a big reason why Toro Rosso did so well at these three races.
Another plus of the Ferrari engine is the performance over two race weekends. Currently the rules state that the same engine must be used for two race weekends (excluding Friday practise).
The Ferrari engine can keep practically the same level of performance over the two weekends. It may lose only a tenth of it’s performance in race weekend 2, this is one of the lowest wear rates on the grid. On the other hand the Toyota engine loses around 3 or 4 tenths during the second race weekend. That’s one hell of a difference.
Of course it would be completely wrong to say that, having the Ferrari engine is the only reason why Toro Rosso are punching above their weight. There are other reasons as you can see from this article but I feel engines is one of the biggest, if not the biggest contributing factor.
Team spirit and hunger/motivation
What you have to remember is that Toro Rosso used to be the old Minardi team. Minardi DNA still runs through the veins of this team. Many of the guys who were slogging away through the nights, to keep Minardi within 4 seconds of the teams at the front are still there. Winning a championship point was like winning a world championship to them in those days. Their work rate has always been incredible
All of sudden, a bit of investment and support from Red Bull technology, and better results are coming from all these guy’s hard work. After that win they must have been in dreamland. Nobody would care if Toro Rosso were still near the back of the grid. That’s what would normally be expected from a much smaller sister team. Therefore there is nowhere near as much pressure on Toro Rosso as there is the main Red Bull team who have the star names. Due to this reason everyone is expecting big things from Red Bull otherwise they are a failure in the media and fan’s eyes.
Great team spirit can help increase performance. When you have had a taste of success for the first time you just want more. The last few months will have brought all those guys at Toro Rosso together and they will be extra motivated to keep it up. Toro Rosso are showing what can be done when a small team has such spirit and motivation. Huge passion and dedication to what you are doing, can bring as good results as a team with great facilities and unlimited budgets.
Red Bull are under immense pressure. They want to get to the front quickly, and they may be frustrated that they haven’t matched their targets in the last couple of seasons. This doesn’t mean that team spirit is very low. However the body language may not be as positive as it is at Toro Rosso currently. That can make a big difference. Being beaten by Toro Rosso won’t help team morale, that’s for sure.
Some of the guys at Red Bull have tasted success, particularly Adrian Newey and Geoff Willis. How hungry are they for more success? Are they as hungry as the members of the Torro Rosso team? They won’t be happy men messing around in midfield. Is this bad taste spreading through the team currently?
Toro Rosso are a smaller and a very close-knit group of people in comparison to Red Bull. With no pressure being an underdog, it’s a very nice position for them to be in. They can really go for it without many implications if it doesn’t go right all the time.
Better driver line-up
There is no doubt that Sebastien Vettel is a very special driver. He is potentially one of those drivers like: Senna, Prost, Schumacher and more recently Lewis Hamilton who don’t come around very often. He can squeeze extra tenths out of the car and upset established superstars. Since Vettel joined Toro Rosso in the middle of last season, Vettel has got used to the team and the car and has developed very quickly.
He won at Monza fully on merit. In the same conditions as everyone else he took the car to pole position. In the race he drove away from drivers who should really have beat him. His talent was finally confirmed to his persisting doubters.
It’s having a superstar like this who can really transform a team. His giant killing results have gone a long way to make team spirit really high and motivate the team even more. Vettel’s very positive and happy personality is very endearing to the team. They all love having him around the team, and this makes the mechanics want to work even harder, to give a driver they really like the best possible chance of winning. He approaches his pit crew with a smile on his face and values the work they do for him highly. Drivers can be great motivators. We have seen this with the likes of Schumacher at Ferrari and Alonso at Renault. On their own they make such a good positive influence on the team that it gets extra tenths out of the car. The mechanics build the car but the driver is the one who has to get the best out of it.
The relationship with the driver is so important. Last season at Toro Rosso the experience was very different with Scott Speed and Liuzzi. The relationship was poor for a variety of reasons. This led to the spirit in the Toro Rosso garage often being quite poor and tense. This affected the performance and Toro Rosso parted company with the pair of them.
A strong and professional relationship with your drivers can make a huge difference to one that is a bit edgy. Sebastien Bourdais, although being not as talented as Vettel has also worked very hard for the team and been very positive, despite not adapting brilliantly to F1 initially at the start of the season. He is now capable of scoring points for the team too. Despite being a rookie he has won major championships in America and knows how a winning team operates. He can pass this onto the Torro Rosso team.
Mark Webber and David Coulthard at the main Red Bull team are both decent drivers. In all due respect to them though, they don’t match the sheer level of natural talent that Vettel has. Vettel will be a great addition to the Red Bull team next season and will help them onto the next level. He will force Webber to get more out of himself, so overall for Red Bull it will be a very positive driver line-up next season.
Will Toro Rosso stay ahead of Red Bull in the championship?
At the moment Toro Rosso is 3 points ahead of Red Bull in the championship. This isn’t a very big gap so Red Bull could still save themselves from embarrassment yet. However Toro Rosso have a very strong chance of staying ahead. There is a possibility of rain at any of the final 3 races. Vettel seems to be a rain master and Toro Rosso appear to have adapted the car brilliantly to the wet conditions. The long-term forecast suggests rain for the race in Fuji. If any rain comes at all then Toro Rosso are better positioned than Red Bull to take a full advantage of it. A wet race could well clinch it for Toro Rosso in terms of finishing ahead of Red Bull.
If there is no rain its closer to call. However the giant straight at Fuji and fast sectors 1 and 2 should give Toro Rosso the edge. Shanghai is a mixture of fast and slow sections so the two teams should be evenly matched there. This may be Red Bull’s opportunity to get in front of Toro Rosso. Brazil is faster than it is slow with two long straights. So I expect Toro Rosso will have an edge there like in Fuji.
Overall Toro Rosso and in particularly Vettel are in the form of their lives at the moment whilst Red Bull are on a slight downer. This writer thinks Torro Rosso can finish the job off. Red Bull’s big opportunity was in Singapore as they anticipated the release of the Safety Car at the right moment. However they didn’t score all the points that they could have got.
Next season and beyond
Currently Toro Rosso is for sale but the boss of Red Bull Dietrich Mateschitz is willing to hold out for the right offer. In 2010 customer cars will finally be outlawed for good. This means that Toro Rosso have to be prepared to be a constructor by this time. Torro Rosso have already started preparing by taking on more staff gradually. That historic win in Monza will do Toro Rosso no harm in trying to find sponsors or potential big investors to takeover the team. Clearly overall there is a future for Toro Rosso (or whatever name they possibly change to) from 2010 and beyond. Chances of them becoming extinct are a lot less than may have been previously thought earlier in the season. Their recent success has raised the teams credit rating and future potential as a team.
Whether they can continue to stay as competitive as Red Bull in the future is another matter. Toro Rosso should have a good car for at least next season. My tip is that Red Bull will adapt to the 2009 regs very well, Newey’s and Willis’s experience may prove invaluable to this huge change. If this is proved to be the case then Toro Rosso will reap the benefits too and have another great season. The main difference is that they will no longer have Vettel but they will have the Ferrari engine still as a trump card(athough other teams are seeking equal performances in the engines next season). 2010 and they will be on their own. Future success will depend on how many sponsors they can find and how big an investor they can get for the team.
In the short term this writer believes Toro Rosso can continue to outshine Red Bull but in the long term expect Red Bull to come good and finally realize their full potential, which for various reasons hasn’t come yet.