Scuderia Toro Rosso is a team with an uncertain future. They are one of two junior outfits in Formula One but unlike Super Aguri they seem to be pushing themselves away from their parent organisation. The long-term future of the team, especially that of its drivers, became a major talking point after last weeks European Grand Prix.
Both drivers crashed out of the race on lap two when heavy rain made the circuit undrivable. This result was not welcome news to Team Principal Franz Tost who let fly with some choice comments towards Scott Speed when the American returned to the pits.
Speed responded in a provocative manner and the argument became a physical one. Tost insists the incident was only minor, but not surprisingly Scott saw it quite differently.
“Franz Tost, in particular, is out of control” he said. “He hit me in the middle of the back with a closed fist. Everyone in the team saw it. As I was leaving the garage he then followed me behind the partition where none of the mechanics could see. He grabbed me from the front of my shirt, jerked me around, ripping my firesuit a little bit, and pushed me against the wall”.
Scott Speed was already expected to lose his Toro Rosso drive next year, but this incident means he will be lucky to survive the rest of this season. In fact, both of the team’s drivers are out of favour with management and are set to leave the Red Bull stable in 2008.
Toro Rosso have been courting multiple Champ Car World Series Champion Sebastien Bourdais over the last twelve months and already have an option on his services. His first test with Toro Rosso came at the end of last year and three weeks ago he drove 144 laps for the team at Spa Francorchamps. His performance in both of these tests believed to have secured him a Formula One contract.
Bourdais’ arrival in the team will be great for Red Bull in terms of marketing, and will maintain some American interest in the sport after the loss of Scott Speed.
Quite ironically, the man currently challenging Bourdais for the 2007 Champ Car title is Red Bull’s third driver Robert Doornbos. The Dutchman will have every right to feel aggrieved if he beats Bourdais to the title, only to miss out on a Red Bull seat in F1.
Scuderia Toro Rosso are also chasing German youngster Sebastian Vettel. The second Sebastian is a very promising young driver but that is not the main reason Red Bull are keen to have him under their wing. They need his presence at Toro Rosso to keep the Red Bull Young Driver Programme alive, because without him their talent scheme is no longer serving a purpose.
If Red Bull lose Vettel to BMW, they could be in a position where none of the young drivers they helped into Formula One are still there. This was unthinkable only two years ago.
It is a ridiculous scenario because Scuderia Toro Rosso was created with the exact purpose of saving the Red Bull Young Driver Programme, and now they appear to be killing it off. In 2005 Red Bull had links to five drivers racing in Formula One and the issue for them at the time was there simply weren’t enough seats to accommodate all their contracted youngsters. Red Bull only had one position available alongside David Coulthard, and (perhaps unwisely) shared this out to Christian Klien and Tonio Liuzzi.
In response to this Red Bull bought the Minardi team as soon as the chance was available, and Scuderia Toro Rosso was born. This effectively gave the company four seats in which to place their drivers and they could also offer Friday testing roles to their younger upcoming stars.
In 2007 only two of those race seats are filled by drivers from the Red Bull programme, and both of them look like being dropped sooner rather than later. Scuderia Toro Rosso will need to hire Vettel or else Red Bull’s massive investment in young driver talent will have been wasted. Their driver mismanagement has already stalled the careers of Christian Klien and Robert Doornbos, and now looks set to claim Liuzzi and Speed as well.
Scott Speed has every right to be upset with his treatment because he has not had the full support of the team for some time. Toro Rosso only confirmed Speed in 2007 three weeks before the first race, with team owner Gerhard Berger saying “If someone drives for us he has to have the same commitment as the rest of the team. And there were times last season when I didn’t feel, in Scott’s case, that this was the case”. Berger’s comments were a strong hint that the driver/team relationship was not working particularly well. Allegedly, Toro Rosso had been hoping to replace Speed in 2007 with either Robert Doornbos or Tiago Monteiro, but neither deal worked out. Scott Speed is a favourite of Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz, which may be the only reason Berger was unable to offload him this year. If true it would have undoubtedly caused tension within Toro Rosso management.
Now it seems that Speed isn’t the only driver out of favour at Toro Rosso, with Franz Tost going as far to say “I’d rather have none of my current drivers in our car at the moment”. You can’t get more blunt than that.
After the European Grand Prix the team’s official post-race press release contained only three words – “Nothing to say”. That has surely got to be demotivating to all of those in the team who worked as hard as they could over the weekend. It would have been especially frustrating to Liuzzi whose accident was caused by a mechanical failure rather than driver error, and would have liked as much confirmed to the F1 media.
There is obviously bad blood between drivers and management so it is only a matter of time before Liuzzi and Speed are confirmed elsewhere for 2008. Wether intentional or not, replacing both Red Bull Young Driver Programme graduates adds a degree of separation between Toro Rosso and the Energy Drink company.
There have been plenty of rumours about the long-term future of Scuderia Toro Rosso this year, and none of them have included Red Bull.
There was talk of the team being sold to HWA, a company currently involved in DTM and Formula 3. There were also rumours of a deal with Volkswagen to transform Toro Rosso into an Audi team. Either of these would have finished Red Bull’s involvement.
With customer cars on the agenda next year there was also suggestion that Toro Rosso would extend their current engine relationship with Ferrari to include the supply of chassis. It looks likely that from 2008 onwards, small teams will be aligning themselves with manufacturers to make life cheaper and easier. It would be feasible therefore for Red Bull to create a technical alliance with Renault, possibly leaving Toro Rosso to find an arrangement elsewhere. Ferrari is a logical choice because both teams are located in Italy, and Gerhard Berger has strong links with his old team.
Even if none of the rumours are true the fact that so many of them exist indicates the long-term future of Scuderia Toro Rosso is far from certain, and that it may not involve Red Bull. Super Aguri are the other ‘junior’ team in Formula One this year but there is no confusion about the direction Honda’s boys are taking.
Gerhard Berger and Franz Tost are the two ex-racers in control of Toro Rosso and both are from outside the Red Bull system. They originally worked closely together at BMW when the German manufacturer re-entered Formula One in 2000 with Williams. Both men might have something to gain if they broke off ties with Red Bull and assumed total control of Toro Rosso. The tension between them and their drivers might be a sign of higher tension with the Red Bull company as a whole.
I find that unlikely because the deal between Gerhard Berger and Red Bull is a complex one. Not only did Berger buy half of Toro Rosso, but Red Bull bought half of his Transport Company. Neither party would have entered the deal if the long-term goal was to go separate ways.
A lot rides on Sebastian Vettel’s appointment next year.
If Toro Rosso go for an outside driver instead of Vettel (such as Ralf Schumacher or Nelson Piquet Jr) it would spell the end of the Red Bull Young Driver Programme. If that were to happen there is less impetus for Red Bull to hang onto their junior team, and that could be exactly the scenario that Gerhard Berger wants.
Who knows? The only thing certain is that nothing is certain at Scuderia Toro Rosso.