It’s not often that a piece of news in F1 genuinely causes shock, but the sacking of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari seems to have done so, especially to the drivers themselves.
After a simple statement yesterday thanking them for their efforts and wishing them well in future, team boss Franz Tost has acknowledged that the decision looks “harsh” and found it necessary to go further today and explain in more detail why the team let the two drivers go,
“Sébastien has been with us for three seasons and Jaime for two and a half. Both of them worked hard for the team, doing their very best and achieving some good results,” he said. “However, Scuderia Toro Rosso’s ethos has always been that of the ‘rookie training school’ and, with over two seasons under your belt, you are no longer a rookie,” he said.
“In an ideal world, drivers would move from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing, but there are no vacancies with our sister team right now. It might be seen as a harsh decision, but Formula 1 is a tough environment and Toro Rosso has always been very clear about the principles behind its driver choice.”
Alguersuari said that he was surprised because he thought he’d had a conversation with Tost and with Dr Helmut Marko, who wields power over the young drivers in the Red Bull stable and they had said he was in their plans. But a decision was taken on Tuesday to sweep out the driver and to give Dan Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne their heads,
“Today’s news seems to be a major misunderstanding in the best moment of my sporting life,” said 21 year old Alguersuari.
“I will not judge the decision because since 15 years old Red Bull gave me everything. Second, I am not a victim because for seven years I have enjoyed the privilege because of them. And third, there is no drama, because I have many plans for the present and the future.
“The surprise lasted for a couple of hours but I have talked to my family and realised that life is full of opportunities and challenges.”
Alguersuari Sr is a powerful figure in Spanish motorsport and will be working hard behind the scenes to secure his son a seat, possibly at the Spanish owned HRT team. It would seem a very logical move unless HRT has a pay driver in mind or another driver with key strategic reasons behind his hiring.
“I fell from the sky!” he said of his shock at the news. “A few days earlier, I had been discussing things for the next season. I was in the simulator yesterday morning at Red Bull Racing in Milton Keynes, where Franz and Helmut called me…
“Obviously I’m disappointed, but it is their decision and I respect it. I have not forgotten that without them I would never have come this far, they helped me tremendously for a long time, almost since my debut in Formula BMW, then F3, GP2 and F1.”
What can we learn from this episode? Well clearly Marko and Tost are comfortable with making ruthless decisions. F1 is a very tough place to work, whatever job you do and you have to be strong to survive. There is something pretty brutal about playing with young people’s lives, but on the flipside of that the company has created the opportunities in the first place, as the drivers are quick to acknowledge. It is therefore, quite literally, “Sink or Swim.”
There is a reason behind what appears a sudden change of heart, but it takes on a different complexion if the management had led the drivers to believe that they had a chance for 2012, then cut them loose.
To some in F1 the decision was obvious – Alguersuari and Buemi had had their chance and failed to impress.
However to one or two engineers from midfield rival teams I’ve spoken to there is surprise that STR didn’t keep one of the drivers and there is a feeling they’ve made a backwards step. It takes time for rookies to find their feet in F1 especially in midfield teams with limited resources and this could help their rivals.
That said, both Ricciardo and Vergne showed in the Young Guns tests of 2010 and 2011 in the Red Bull car that they are very fast.
Vergne has been pushed very hard by Red Bull recently. There is likely to be a commercial dimension to this as far as France is concerned as the brand is playing catch up having been banned their for 12 years before the Austrian company successfully overturned the ban in the European Court in 2008.
But Alguersuari stands as a cautionary tale, for Vergne in particular, that you can bring a young driver into F1 too quickly and burn him out before he really gets going. Both Vergne and Ricciardo will look at what’s happened to this year’s drivers and be aware it could happen to them.F1 is a tough environment, as Tost says, but young drivers need to be managed to help them make the grade when they get their chance.
Romain Grosjean was on the scrap heap after coming in half-cocked with Renault in 2009, but has regrouped and returned with Lotus Renault.
Now Alguersuari and Buemi need a lifeline too.