The small Red Bull junior team is a bit of an enigma. They were clearly faster than the back marker teams last year but, for most of 2012, they weren’t near the top of the midfield. This will be something they are desperate to change not just for the sake of the team, but also for the sake of their drivers.
As the junior team for Red Bull, Toro Rosso is regarded as the sort of proving grounds for future Red Bull F1 drivers. This means, though, that their drivers need a decent, competitive car that will allow them to show their talent, or, sometimes, expose their lack of it. Toro Rosso put their renowned cutthroat way of doing things to work when they let the highly regarded Jaime Alguesuari and Sebastien Buemi go at the end of 2011. The split with the former was very sour as he had a falling out with Helmut Marko in Korea.
Last year, the car’s major problem was its setup window. The STR7 was hard to set up to the drivers’ liking, and once there, hard to keep. Daniel and Jean Eric have completely different driving styles, the former a Button-like smooth sailor and the latter an aggressive, Hamilton-like hard charger.
The polarity within the team in terms of driving styles means that the car needs to be very malleable in its setup window. In testing, the car hasn’t proved to be the easiest car to driver, and it hasn’t proven the quickest leading many to believe Toro Rosso is set for another year in obscurity. That is saying something considering it is a midfield team.
Jean Eric Vergne:
It is hard to talk in detail about the two Toro Rosso drivers. Jean Eric Vergne has a very impressive junior record, as do most Red Bull junior drivers. However, his relative obscurity has put his future in the sport in danger. The youngest driver in the field last year, Jean was nearly always the one midfield driver eliminated in Q1, oftentimes being out-qualified by a Caterham or even two.
The only thing improving his reputation is his race craft. Despite his consistently poor qualifying performances, he almost had double the points of his teammate at the end of the 2012 season. His performances in races may be the thing that saves his career if it comes to that point.
Jean needs to improve vastly in qualifying if he is to keep his place in the Red Bull “family”. With the highly regarded Antonio Felix da Costa breathing down both drivers’ necks, the Frenchman will need to up his game in what could be a career-defining season.
Like Jean Eric, Daniel is a man with a target on his back. While he performed more consistently than the Frenchman, he didn’t score as many points as him. The Aussie cited a lack of aggression as the cause of this. That will not sit well with the big wigs at Red Bull.
The drinks giant went out on a limb to give Daniel his F1 debut in 2011 with HRT. He performed well enough to warrant a move to Toro Rosso, but he didn’t entirely impress once there. Other than his shock 6th place grid position in Bahrain, Daniel wasn’t a stand out performer in 2012.
If Daniel is to have a long-term future in the sport, he will have to start bringing up the level of his aggression. There is no point for him to be in F1 if he is afraid to put himself out there and fight for a position, regardless if it is for the win, the final point or for 18th place.