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Why is Toro Rosso an ejector seat?
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Why is Toro Rosso an ejector seat?
Posted By: James Allen  |  18 Jul 2009   |  8:59 am GMT  |  25 comments

A few readers have commented this week about the fact that Toro Rosso has one of the worst records in the field for dropping drivers. So far in their short history they have dropped Scott Speed, Tonio Liuzzi and now Sebastien Bourdais.

I’ve never quite got my head around Toro Rosso. It was once  Minardi and was bought up by Red Bull  boss Dietrich Mateschitz to fulfil several functions; to help out F1 by keeping another team on the grid, an extra non-manufacturer voice  politically, an extra branding opportunity, but mainly as a place to give young drivers from the Red Bull driver development programme somewhere to learn their craft. Speed, Buemi, Vettel all fitted into this category. I suppose by necessity, in that situation not every move is going to work out and you will end up dropping drivers if they don’t perform. But they do seem to have made a habit of it.

In practice they have tended to run  one rookie and one driver with experience. Ironically last year they had Vettel and Bourdais, neither of whom had much F1 experience and yet the team had their best season ever! This clearly didn’t go down too well at Red Bull HQ.

The problem with this situation for Toro Rosso this year, with no testing allowed,  is that with a rookie in one car, Buemi, they needed someone with experience in the other seat to evaluate updates and give a strong technical direction. Bourdais, in his second year in F1 but with lots of experience from ChampCars,  should have been able to do this, but clearly fell way short of expectations.

Toro Rosso is the only team yet to use a double diffuser, as the season reaches the half way stage. This has hurt its competitiveness massively. It started the year getting cars into the third part of qualifying and now is propping up the grid. It will get its major upgrade in Budapest next weekend and should go substantially faster, but they will have two very inexperienced drivers bedding in the upgrade with no chance to test it first. Team boss Franz Tost says that this should bring the team back to the performance levels of the second half of last year, when Vettel won in Italy.

I think that whatever the reasons for doing Toro Rosso in the first place, it has now become a distraction for Red Bull. They are now at F1′s top table and have a real chance to win the world title and every penny spent on Toro Rosso is money not going into the development of this year’s car and into keeping the team at the front next year.

Red Bull cut their budgets last winter, things like the Red Bulletin F1 magazine, with an annual budget reputed to be in the €7 million range, was dropped. Both teams had cutbacks, but you sense that Toro Rosso really has been cut to the bone.

With Red Bull in with a shout of the title you can tell that more resources are being thrown at the team now, but they are not new funds, according to team boss Christian Horner. They have been reallocated from elsewhere. I wonder whether that elsewhere is Toro Rosso?

Jaime Alguersuari, the 19 year old rookie who replaces Bourdais next week, is reputed to have a budget from Repsol of around €1 million per race for the first two races, money which will come in handy in Faenza if the Big Brother team is sucking up all the cash.

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25 Comments
  1. Kenny says:

    I recall a statement made last year by Red Bull that they would sell their share in Toro Rosso this year, or just pull out at the end of this season. Isn’t that why Berger sold his share back to Mateschitz? There has been no mention of that plan lately. Does anyone know what the plan is now?

  2. Snail says:

    …things like the Red Bulletin F1 magazine, with an annual budget reputed to be in the €7 million range, was dropped.

    I took a look at an issue of Red Bulletin and thought it was rubbish. Didn’t even bother to work my way to the end of it. Seemed like a “Hello” magazine for the F1 community.

    Maybe I’m doing it a dis-service, or maybe its not aimed at me (perhaps I’m too old?) but for 7M Euro I’d expect a lot better than that.

    I’d have to say stopping Red Bulletin was a very wise allocation of their funds.

  3. Aaron James says:

    Hi James,

    I believe some fault may with management, particularly Franz Tost.

    Now, to use the famous quote of your predecessor the great Murray Walker, “Unless I’m very much mistaken”, all drivers axed have waggled the finger at him.

    It makes you wonder, is that just coincidence, and also, they all seem to leave after bust ups with him?

  4. Jason C says:

    Remember when Button looked crap? When he was at Benetton, or even Honda in 07 and 08. I’m surprised that Bourdais has looked so bad after seeming so good in Champ Cars.

    I was under the impression that Toro Rosso were looking for a buyer during this season, because Mateschitz (sp?) had decided to sell at the end of the year. It certainly doesn’t make sense to have 2 F1 teams while they can’t be profitable, but looking to the future, if teams are genuine about cutting budgets, then teams like STR are going to deliver cash to their owners. So perhaps it’s worth hanging on to.

    I’m not really sure why they wouldn’t either take Seb Loeb up on his offer, or give the seat to another experienced driver (Sato?).

  5. alex says:

    James,

    Does not having a shared chassis with a sister team in fact give RBR a potentially decisive advantage in 2009 given the lack of testing allowed now ?

  6. Kevin Baines says:

    Well money does talk. I think half of the reason for dropping Bourdais was the lack of funding he brought to the team. Although Bourdais has been a letdown this year it still wouldn’t make sense to replace him with a 19 year old who’s barely had any running in a F1 car, let alone limited motorsport experience. I think Toro Rosso is starting to build a plan for the future because with continued sucess with the RBR main team, sooner or later i think a for sale sign will be going up outside the factory doors and they will have to be able to fight on their own.

  7. melonfarmer says:

    This case demonstrates the insular world of F1: Bourdais has just finished 2nd at Le Mans, yet he’s on his way in F1. I guess some guys like Bourdais, Dario and Jan Magnussen aren’t suited to F1.

    PT’s comments were a laugh tho’

  8. Rudy Pyatt says:

    Thanks James; this is spot on, as usual.

    I can’t help thinking that it won’t be long before the team is sold. Maybe that the FIA announced only three new teams because a fourth will simply take over Torro Rosso, complete with its entry?

    Now that his arch nemesis Max Mosley is standing down, Paul Stoddardt may repurchase the team; and given the economy, and the need to free up resources by the Red Bull organization, likely at a knockdown price. In a year of strangeness and irony, that would indeed be fitting.

  9. jw1980 says:

    James,

    do you think that there is a possibility that STR could be sold? I thought that was Dieter M’s (cannot remember how to spell his sir name) intention a couple of years ago. Could it be sold to Superfund? This is an Austrian team. Are there connections between the two?
    It could be a way for N Tech to enter F1 but I guess there’s too much trouble between them and FIA right now.

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, you are right. The boss has said that he wants to sell the team, but he changed his tune a little earlier this year. It’s a way for N Technology to come in, for sure, as it is for anyone who is serious about going F1 racing.

  10. Michael says:

    Great chunk James as always and thank you. Folks should remember that STR has had a view to develop new drivers and is an important part in the RB driver series training program. We then have to think that drivers would naturally check in and out more frequently as a result. I do agree with many web writers though that the team seems to have moved through some quite capable drivers and the new guy sounds like a total pay driver. All the power to him if he can rate but it sounds like he has an extreme amount of money to offer.

  11. Martinco5 says:

    Snail, I also have seen a Red Bulletin and ended up thinking, “What is the point of this, it’s not funny, newsworthy, provocative, just pointless”.

  12. CTM says:

    Bourdais’ exit was coming, he has underperformed, or has he, Champcars was a shadow of the sub F1 formula category it was in the 90′s, Andretti, Zanardi, Montoya, Di Matta, Bourdais, and only Montoya was a success in F1, and now a comparison done by Radio Le Mans, mid week motorsport collective shows the current IRL cars are slower than GP2 and not much quicker than F2, such is the inertia of development in spec chassis, spec engine series. And I’d have to say Bourdais’ failure from Champ Car has probably ruined the chances of anyone else being chosen from over the pond, other than with US orientated F1 team insisting on US drivers.

    And why the surprise that drivers get dumped from TR more than anyone else, Red Bull’s driver development system is fairly ruthless on drivers who are failing to perform, and as a junior team, it surprises me not at all that one of those seats should have a revolving door in trying drivers out, and moving on.

    As to the comment that Bourdais didn’t bring much sponsorship to the car, yes and no, he didn’t need to, but if he had it might have helped, I believe that Red Bull drinks are making a huge promotion in France, and perhaps that has more than a passing influence on the intention to put Loeb into F1 in that car. It’ll create huge French and world wide interest, for Red Bull. Although with no testing, it will be a disappointment I fear, is also why the theory of Junior team, trying out red bull proteges through the season is a nonsense.

    1. Rudy Pyatt says:

      Good points, unfortunately, for open-wheel racers from this side of the Atlantic. I DETEST spec series; I’ll save that for another rant. But:

      F1 drivers have had problems adapting over here, especially to ovals, too. None has stepped from an F1 car and been truly competitive since Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fitipaldi, and, to a much lesser extent, Mark Blundell, back in the ’90s. Wilson just won at Watkins Glen, so maybe he’s on the way after years of so-so performances. And he still has to show consistent oval form. Dornbos? Hardly. Sheckter? He’s had moments few and far between. Montoya is interesting, having gone F3000 champion/CART champion/IRL Indy 500 winner/F1 winner/to at least respectable, with a road course win, in NASCAR/and winning in GrandAm. Maybe the last of the true all-rounders.

      Something James says rings true, the reliance on mechanical (over here) v. aero biased (across the Pond) handling and grip. I’m oversimplifying things, but it seems that on both road courses and ovals, springs, shocks, tire pressures and anti-roll bars are things you hear more about when Indycar teams (and NASCAR and USAC teams for that matter) tune handling. In F1, you rarely hear them mentioned except with “riding the curbs” on chicanes. It seems that most of the springing action in F1 cars actually comes from the tires. Of course, as James has also noted, the relative weights of the cars plays a big role too.

      This may be down to the tracks as well. Road America and Laguna Seca, for example, have much more elevation change than most GP circuits and are bumpier too, as is Long Beach and most other U.S. tracks. (Relatively) supple ride, focusing on springs, shocks and anti-roll bars, has to take precedence over the sucking the car to the track with wings and diffusers — requiring stiffer springing and damping to cope with the aero loads — approach that you see in F1. Indycars test at Sebring. Can an F1 car even be controlled over that bumpy surface?

      And don’t forget that telemetry plays almost NO role in most forms of U.S. racing: It’s banned at races, everything is based on driver feedback. So, “what we have here is a failure to communicate” when drivers switch between Indycars and F1. I doubt that drivers from either discipline can bridge the communication gap, the difference in tracks and the difference in handling bias in one or two seasons. And no team is going to wait the three to five seasons it probably takes for all of that to mesh, unless the driver brings big, big money into the team.

      (sorry again for the length James. hacksaw as needed.)

  13. artorwar says:

    Bourdais was poor. I defended him for a long time to people based on his past form. I would imagine the TR guys got sick of saying “He’ll come good soon enough” as well. It’s also reported he wasn’t the most likeable of characters (unusual for a Frenchman?) As for Loeb, his team were not keen on the idea of him driving in 2 disciplines at once from what I read. I say give the young Catalan a shot to be honest. They don’t have a great deal to loose, especially if the For Sale sign will be replacing the pit board shortly. Sato is a bit of a stray bullet in an F1 car and the experience on offer is all of questionable talent.

  14. Bludd says:

    Why is Toro Rosso an ejector seat? I think it is because of Dr. Helmut Marko.

  15. michael c says:

    sorry Sebastian but you have not really figured in your time in the team – and unfortunately as Nelson Piquet is also likely to find out – there is no patience in modern F1. for novelty value it would be interesting to see how (yet another) Sebastian (Loeb) did in another discipline – ditto Kimi Raikonnen

  16. @ Artowar

    Re: Sato
    It’s unlikely to see him at STR this or next season to be honest. There are big rumours flying that he has a confirmed seat with Gil de Ferran’s new team in the IRL next year.

    On a sidenote, as a fan of both the IRL and (the now defunct) Champ Car World Series, I must agree with the Force India chap Ian Phillips, when he pointed out that every so often American single-seaters occasionally stagnates every few seasons. They’ve been using the same spec chassis and engine for a number of years now and any tech development is generally non-existent.

    Unfortunately this produces a large number of drivers that are for all intents and purposes very fast, but seriously lacking in technical knowledge which hinders their F1 career greatly.
    The question is “would Bourdais been more successful had he gone into F1 straight after or shortly after he won the F3000 championship?”

    In the long run, I can’t see Jaime Alguersuari making an impression as he may just be too inexperienced; and to be frank, he has not set the world alight in WSbyR.
    So don’t be too surprised if a certain Nico Hulkenberg found himself in that seat next season. He looks to have all the right credentials thus far.

    Anyhoo, that’s my two cents worth…
    :)

  17. Sledge says:

    Hi James

    Do you reckon its a possibility for Bourdais to join US F1 because of his history in the US or is this the last of Bourdais’ F1 career.

  18. Jim says:

    James, a little off topic this, but it’s bugging me. Some friends went to the German GP with general admission tickets and were shoved a long way from the track. I’ve seen the pictures and they had very poor positions. Apparently the tickets were assinged specific areas within the normal GA spaces. Is this happening regularly do you know? I just worry that this will become a trend as venue’s try to recover some of the huge costs imposed on them by FOM. races are already a luxury for most of us, but if we can’t see the track without binolulars, then it’ll just be pointless going :-(

    Keep up the good work…

    Jim

    1. Tony G says:

      Jim

      General admission tickets? Mate you won’t see a thing with those. I went to Melbourne last year and paid through the nose for a silver grandstand deal and had to peer through mesh fencing to see the action. I paid through the nose for them too as I wasn’t prepared to part with the better part of $600 to sit higher in the stand. Think I’ve seen my last live GP unless I win the lottery and go and see Monaco one year. Spectators are treated like the plague by F1 because of the deal given to circuits who have to make ends meet by the money paid by the spectators alone!

  19. Given the unprofessional way in which Franz Tost publicly criticized the Toro Rosso drivers in the past, just before they were dumped, I would have to point a lot of the finger of blame at team management. You never publicly throw any team employee under the bus. Especially not your drivers. Franz Tost was not risking his life every time he went to the race track. He should have kept his mouth shut. The fact that Helmut Marko did not defend the drivers also is not good. He, an ex-driver himself, should have known better.
    Toro Rosso is doomed with its current leadership structure. Georgio Ascanelli is a good engineer, but he has no upgrades to work with, and the drivers have been hung out to dry. Bourdais may have been a disappointment, but he may have a good enough case to get some compensation for being dropped. Put it this way…if Toro Rosso is as unprofessional behind the scenes as it has looked to be in public, there may be some awkward facts that the team ownership would not want to emerge during discovery…

  20. Zeloveur says:

    Hi James,

    Same question as Sledge: do you think US F1 is an option for Bourdais as he is still famous there and was backed by Mac Donalds.

    1. James Allen says:

      Unlikely, I would say. Peter Windsor is looking to partner an American drive with an experienced driver like a Barrichello or a Wurz or de la Rosa type guy, as far as I know.

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