F1 2014 Preview: Torro Rosso – New talent and a benchmark

As the junior team for Red Bull, Torro Rosso has largely functioned as a revolving door since its inception. In fact, there have been only two drivers (Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo) who have been promoted to the works team since 2006. A brilliant 2008 saw Sebastian Vettel lead Torro Rosso to a higher constructors’ place than Red Bull, and since then it hasn’t been much more than a rival for the crest-fallen Williams—minus the interesting names and odd personalities.

In 2012 Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo looked like they would be a breath of fresh air for a team that had become synonymous with below-average rich boys. Neither was able to establish clear dominance over the other in racing, but Ricciardo distinguished himself with strong qualifying speed and a better attitude. Ricciardo’s promotion to Red Bull this year opened the door to a fresh crop of drivers with links to the team. Surprisingly, Antonio Felix da Costa was passed over in favor of a young Russian no one knew much about. With a new young-charger and known quantity, this appears to be a season of measures for Italy’s Red Bull.

The Car

More conservative than its big sister, the STR9 may have be the quicker Red Bull car at the start of the season.

More conservative (and reliable) than its big sister, the STR9 may be the better Red Bull car at the start of the season.

At the end of last year, Torro Rosso announced that they would not seek to extend their contract with Ferrari and signed Renault as their new power unit supplier. Quite a mistake, that. Even as the second most reliable of the Renault-powered cars, the STR9 couldn’t manage half of the testing mileage put down by the Mercedes team. Like many Renault cars, overheating problems and electronic gremlins kept it from running at full power and kept the mechanics busy.

On the plus side, Torro Rosso may be able to start the season ahead of the senior team. By employing a more conservative design that features wider rear bodywork and larger side pods, the STR9 was able to put in longer runs than Red Bull, allowing them to sort out problems beyond overheating sooner. Though Red Bull will certainly be going through Torro Rosso’s data to sort out their own problems as quickly as possible, the junior team does have enough of a head start to upset the reigning champion for a moment or two.

Daniil Kvyat – FYI, it sounds like “Fiat”

A Russian rookie whose face is bursting with emotion, Kvyat is tipped to be a future star.

A Russian rookie whose face is bursting with emotion, Kvyat is tipped to be a future star.

A fast-rising star, Kvyat has won and been runner-up in several categories, claimed the GP3 championship and pipped the former favorite for the open Torro Rosso seat: all of this in spite of still being a fetus. At 19 years old, Kvyat will be amongst the youngest drivers to ever drive an F1 car. He is also the second Russian, following the rather unimpressive yet egocentric Vitaly Petrov. Consequently, that makes him the first Russian F1 driver who will serve a greater purpose than acting undeservedly pompous.

While his junior career suggests that he is undeniably quick, there are some, such as Will Buxton, who have opined that he could do with more experience still before taking the step up into Formula 1. Moving from GP3 to F1 is a huge undertaking, and unlike Valtteri Bottas had in 2012, Kvyat didn’t get a lot of free practice running time. Being such a young age, well, think about how mature you really were at 19 years old. He may still be growing and has a lot of mental development left to undergo.

The first half of the season will be a very sharp learning curve (provided the STR9 can last an entire race), and with great things expected of him, Kvyat is looking at far greater challenge than anything he has known. He has the speed to do well, but his maturity remains in question.

Jean-Eric Vergne – On borrowed time

Lucky to still be racing after two disappointing seasons, Vergne could be facing his last year in F1.

Lucky to still be racing after two disappointing seasons, Vergne could be facing his last year in F1.

Red Bull passing over Vergne for the seat vacated by Mark Webber came as little surprise to many. Missing the seat also suggests that his time in the Red Bull family is running out. Utterly outclassed in qualifying by Ricciardo and terribly inconsistent in race pace, the continuation of Vergne’s career at Torro Rosso is almost certainly for two reasons above all else: the team needs a benchmark for his rookie teammate, and the new regulations would have been impossibly difficult for two rookies to carry the team on.

Grateful for the opportunity to continue racing in F1, the Frenchman claims to have been changed for the better by missing the Red Bull seat. An increased level and focus of dedication will be required for Verge then if he’s to continue his F1 career by year’s end. His stock hit a low over the winter break when team owner Dietrich Mateschitz claimed that he expected Daniil Kvyat to be faster than Vergne before the summer break. Should such be the case, it would leave Vergne with severely limited options. With a fourth year at Torro Rosso extremely unlikely, this is his last chance to prove himself.

Preseason Figures
Jerez Total Laps:
54 Laps (8th*)
Vergne: 45 Laps
Kvyat: 9 Laps
Best times
Vergne: 1’29.915 (12th)
Kvyat: 1’44.016 (18th)

Bahrain Figures (Test 1 &2 Combined)
Total laps: 416 Laps (8th)
Vergne: 212 Laps
Kvyat: 194 Laps
Best Times
Vergne: 1’35.701 (11th)
Kvyat: 1’36.113 (13th)

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