The Formula 1 landscape has been shifting a bit over the past year or so. F1 blue blood McLaren Mercedes has taken a big step back and mid-level team Force India is moving up in the world. One team that has miles of potential to step-up a level and join Force India in challenging the top-tier teams is Toro Rosso, but for some reason they haven’t taken that step.
Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne has finished P10 on average in 2013…that is when he finishes. Though Vergne has finished no lower than P12 and as high as P6 he has racked up four DNFs on the season; twice due to accident damage, once for tire issues and once due to a hydraulics failure. Vergne hasn’t qualified particularly well but did manage to start in the top 10 twice with a P10 in Monaco and a P7 in Canada. Consistency has been Vergne’s biggest issue so far in 2013, which is probably why his team mate Daniel Ricciardo is normally talked about as the better of the two drivers despite having worse average finishes.
Ricciardo’s average finish falls somewhere between P12 and P13 with his worst effort of the year being a P18 in Malaysia and his best being a P7 at the very next race in China, but he has half as many DNFs as Vergne. The Aussie has also qualified better than his counterpart with four top 10 showings including a P5 at the British Grand Prix.
If you couldn’t tell from the livery on their cars, Toro Rosso is funded by Red Bull and is essentially little more than a glorified development team for Red Bull Racing. This point was driven home by RBR Team Principal Christian Horner when he named both current Toro Rosso wheel men as two of the three potential replacements for the departing Mark Webber. Ricciardo was immediately assumed to be second in the running behind Kimi Raikkonen whom Horner said the team was also interested in.
That assumption was shaken up a bit by Red Bull’s announcement that they would run Ricciardo at the Young Driver Test at Silverstone. Ricciardo was impressive during his time in the RB9, posting the third quickest time of the day, but was actually faster while driving his Toro Rosso STR8 in which he ran the lap that topped the time sheets. As far as I’m concerned Ricciardo is going to be a Red Bull race driver in 2014 despite the fact that his team mate posts better average finishes when he makes it to the end of the race. Raikkonen won’t leave Lotus F1 Team, where he is comfortable, for RBR where he will be number two to Sebastian Vettel.
Toro Rosso will be one of several teams switching engine manufacturers over the next couple of seasons as Formula 1 makes the change from naturally-aspirated V8s to turbo-charged V6s. The team currently uses Ferrari engines but will join their big brother RBR and use Renault power plants from 2014 on.
With Ricciardo likely leaving for Red Bull, Toro Rosso will have a race seat to fill for 2014. The top candidates to fill the seat will be Red Bull Junior Team drivers Antonio Felix da Costa or Carlos Sainz Jr., both of whom took laps for Toro Rosso at the YDT in Silverstone. Da Costa has more experience and has been dominant in the lower formulas, so he should be considered the favorite of the two to snag the race seat.
Toro Rosso has the capabilities to be a team that steals podiums and points away from the top teams with regular frequency. However, they have remained perfectly average through the first half of 2013 and there is little to suggest that will change anytime soon.