The performance of the Toro Rosso cars at the weekend underlined how much progress the team has made in the second half of the season. But where is the boost coming from and is there a back story to it?
Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastian Buemi both qualified in the top ten in India and Alguersuari raced strongly to another points finish. In the last five races the team has scored 29 points, while rivals Sauber in the same period have scored six and Force India 19.
Since Suzuka in particular the Toro Rosso has been making huge strides.
In Singapore the delta in qualifying from Toro Rosso to the pace setter Sebastian Vettel was 4 seconds equates to 4.1% of the lap time. In Japan where they tested the exhausts it was 3.1%, then in Korea it came down to 2.4% and in India it was 2%. Meanwhile Alguersuari drove away from Adrian Sutil in the middle stint of the race in India. So how have they done it?
They’ve done it with new aerodynamic parts like wings and floors, but particularly by getting the most from the exhaust blown diffuser in a very short space of time and this is where it gets interesting.
As I write the F1 commission meeting today is discussing among other things the degree of technical collaboration allowed between teams, it’s interesting to look at Toro Rosso, who are not allowed under the Concorde Agreement regulations to simply get a car or parts of one from sister team Red Bull.
But they are allowed to share ideas and rival teams believe that they have been getting advice on the key areas to focus on in developing the blown diffuser and this has given them a short cut to getting it right.
Most established teams now have some form of blown diffuser but it’s a fiendishly difficult thing to get right. Red Bull pioneered it with engine partner Renault last season but this season it has really come into its own and contributes a massive amount of downforce.
Even teams with huge resources like McLaren and Ferrari took their time to get it right, as you are groping around in the dark until you come across the secrets to making it work. For the midfield teams, where resources are more limited, this process can take even longer and some pointers in understanding the system and how to optimise it would save a lot of time and get quick results. Engineers say that you can go more quickly to the right answers.
This is fair enough and does not breach the current rules, but it’s a huge advantage. As to why Red Bull as a company might do it, the answer is money. The difference between 8th place, where Toro Rosso were and 6th place, which is within reach now in the final two races, is worth around €7 million.
But there is a wider game at play too, as Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has already hinted that he would consider selling a stake in Toro Rosso to the right partner. He has entered into an agreement with IPIC, the Abu Dhabi based investment company. Among other brands, IPIC owns CEPSA, the Spanish oil company and Falcon bank, which are now Toro Rosso sponsors. Such a positive growth curve in performance is bound to play well next week when the parties meet at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, if a partial sale is on the agenda.
Returning to the F1 commission meeting today, the nub of the issue is that grey and even incomplete areas were left in the rules on technology sharing in the last Concorde Agreement.
It is in the interests of the sport, the big teams and the small teams, for technology sharing like that between McLaren and Force India or Red Bull and Team Lotus. It brings the smaller teams up and makes the midfield really competitive.
For the next Concorde Agreement, due to start in 2013, all the stakeholders want clarification of how much Intellectual Property transfer should be allowed and how to regulate it. With a change of engine formula in 2014, manufacturers of powertrains will want to have a “works team” and then customer teams and it is the right moment to discuss how much further technology sharing goes in that relationship.
Inevitably among competitive people there is suspicion, but this is an area where the sport can easily sort that out, by learning from the defence industry, where there are strict protocols and guidelines in place for IP sharing and problems are avoided.