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.