The long awaited break before last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix provided the opportunity for much needed improvements to be implemented with every team in the field. Virtually all teams were in desperate need for this “spring break” to make those necessary upgrades. This, of course, included the obvious such as Mclaren-Honda, Williams-Martini and Scuderia Ferrari, all desperately trying to close the gap Mercedes has gained. But the one team I wasn’t expecting to shine as brightly, is the sister of Infiniti Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Toro Rosso. Yes, Dietrich Mateschitz still owns both teams. However, I’m sure he didn’t expect the junior team to jump out of Red Bulls shadow, ever. But they did.
Toro Rosso, as did others, made multiple changes to last year’s car during preseason testing. Simple aero improvements were made to the rear of the car. Slits pointed upward allows airflow to the rear wing. The more air passing over the wing, the greater the down-force. Additionally, the air intake above the driver’s head sports a newly equipped radiator core.
The new nose produces more forward down-force as well as improving the cosmetics. No more banana shaped front wings encouraging you to shield your children’s eyes. Team boss Franz Tost has expressed their car as “the best ever”. Toro Rosso has developed the STR10 to compete with their mid-grid rivals. Competitors such as Lotus, Sauber and Force India. Their results have far exceeded their expectations.
We now see where Franz’s comment was leading. Making an assumption before the car had been proven on track. In Spain last weekend, the improvements were starting to show for team Toro Rosso. The two youngest drivers in Formula 1, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr., finished qualifying on a high note placing 5th and 6th on the grid. Starting ahead of Red Bull Racing, it was astonishing to see what was unfolding. Though this was the first time Toro Rosso out qualified Red Bull this season, it was such a surprise even I found myself cheering for them.
Sunday, the two teammates were found in a predicament. The Renault power unit was suffering in a straight line, as usual due to lack of power. On the other hand, the two teammates were putting on a show, they were duking it out for championship points. Sainz Jr. struggled into 9th ahead of Daniil Kvyat. Making contact and pushing his own car wide, Sainz took advantage of cutting through turn 1, which was later reviewed by the race stewards and no further action was taken.
Meanwhile 17 year old Max Verstappen took 11th finishing just outside of points. So why say Toro Rosso did so well only after this break? Haven’t they been improving all season? It all comes back to that Renault power unit. Despite the short break, Renault has yet to provide sufficient power to its customers in straight line speeds. Teams are still having to detune in order to preserve their engines while not completely sacrificing their ability to compete, even in mid-field.
Renault cars were also shown to be slower in speed traps than the rival units. For example, Pastor Maldonado was able to pass Max Verstappen very early on in the race on the front straight. It also caused both Toro Rosso drivers to finish 4 to 5 positions from their start.
Nevertheless, in qualifying the engine was tuned to get the fastest lap possible. Still, not on par with Mercedes or Ferrari, but how else was Toro Rosso able to advance to Q3? This team can finish strong by the end of the season. They are currently 7th in the constructors standing. Their two young drivers are showing improvement compared to the last seasons pair of Kvyat and Vergne.
The story of their season will be a toss-up between staying competitive while risking grid penalties or conserving power units while choking yourself as your rivals pass you by.