The British Grand Prix marks the mid-point of the season: too early for nostalgia, but time for a look back over the first half of the year, with the team principal, the drivers and the chief engineer. FRANZ TOST After half a season, we now...
The British Grand Prix marks the mid-point of the season: too early for nostalgia, but time for a look back over the first half of the year, with the team principal, the drivers and the chief engineer.
After half a season, we now have a team that has better stability and increased cooperation between the different elements which means the team is getting better all the time, although we are still in a situation where we are recruiting new staff. But this is not a job advertisement! How well the car performs is the result of all the different departments within the team, not just the technical department but the whole organisational structure of the team and down to the detail of how the mechanics build the car. At this point in the season, I can see the people now pay more attention to detail and this is the first step to improving performance and we are working in the right direction.
The rumours regarding the sale of the team, when they grew stronger again earlier this season, did have an effect on us, but only for a short time. If every week there is a story that the team will be sold it is not so funny for the employees. But the message we have from Dietrich Mateschitz is clear, that for 2009, everything will remain stable, not just in terms of employment but also in terms of the budget. Then, from 2010 we will see what happens. At the moment the team is stable. We are pushing hard, taking one step at a time and we have improved our performance.
Our cooperation with Red Bull Technology has always been good even if we are competing with Red Bull Racing and both teams are made up of very competitive racers. I can only say thank you to Red Bull Technology, because the people there around Adrian Newey have done a tremendous job as we can see from this STR3 car. Unfortunately, the new car was a bit late: if it had been finished a month earlier, allowing us more testing time to acquire more data, our performance could be better now.
The drivers have so far performed as I had expected, given that both of them have very little F1 experience. Vettel has pretty much jumped into Formula 1 after a very short racing career. With the current very high level of performance from all the drivers on the grid, you can't just come into this category and show the others how to drive. A young driver needs three years until he understands what F1 is about: it's not just driving the car, he needs to understand the whole environment, the engineering, the marketing, the press and bring all these elements together to build up the complete picture to understand when to do what. On this level I am very happy with both our drivers. Vettel is doing a very good job because we can see his learning curve is increasing and he is getting better and better and I am convinced that in the next few races we will see the results of this. Bourdais had a fantastic start in Melbourne and he has also had some other good races. He too is improving and we can expect to see more good races from him.
My season got underway with an average qualifying in Australia and then I had a super race up until two laps from the finish, but despite everything I have fond memories of it and it was a nice debut. After that we struggled a bit with some technical problems and I made some mistakes. We lacked a bit of competitivity until we got the new car. When that came, our potential was much higher but now I need to find what works for me with this car and I'm not quite there yet. But we continue to work hard in the hope that things will take a turn for the better.
It's difficult to quantify how much one relies on one's experience; in my case I don't have that much experience of Formula 1 and the switch to the new car for Monaco did prove a bit problematic for me. Adding to that difficulty was that, very shortly after we ran it for the first time, we then had a new aero package, and with limited knowledge of the base car, this further complicated the situation in terms of understanding the car's behaviour.
Coming from being a front runner in Champ Cars to my current position in F1 has not been hard to deal with. I was not always winning races over there and the important thing is to feel you are doing a good job. Winning a race which everyone knows you are capable of winning and where you are even expected to win, is satisfying but you have just done your job. But to be in a car that everyone knows is not at the front of the pack and you manage to score points means you have done a good job and you have to take satisfaction from that, even if it's different to winning. When it goes well and you have something to smile about, that's the time to be careful and when there are times when you have nothing to smile about, then you have to deal with it, but that's not unique to Formula 1.
The season so far has been quite interesting, with a lot of up and downs. We had an excellent start in Australia with a very good qualifying. We started the season with the old car, which in the end was the right decision because we were looking for reliability. After Australia, the next four Grand Prix starts or first laps were not quite so successful. We always had a first lap incident and crashes. But what can you say, sometimes shit happens, so you just have to focus again on the next race and I would say Turkey was more or less the turning point. We finished last in the race, we had quite a few difficulties with the pit stops and so on, but still we finished the race. In Monaco we introduced the new car which was only my second time of driving it. We had a very good race there, in very tricky conditions. We took our second finish of the season and my first points at the same time so that was very good. Then we went to Montreal which again is a special place and the race was obviously playing into our hands with the one stop strategy starting from the pit lane. It was good to have the safety car at the right time which helped us. But more important was the pace, which was very good all weekend and we were able to finish in the points again, P 8. Then we had the first real test with the new car in Barcelona introducing new parts which brought a good step forward and in Magny- Cours, we had a very competitive package. It seems we are going in the right direction, steadily improving. Hopefully, for the rest of the season, maybe even next week in Silverstone, we are in a good position to score some more points. So the target for the rest of the year is always to achieve 100 percent of our own performance.
We had decided to start the season with a modified version of the '07 car and on balance, we have no regrets. Currently, we are just one point short of our total for the whole of last year, so we must have done something right! I don't regret any decisions we took. However, in the early part of the season with STR2B, we picked up fewer points than we should have done, but this was not because we were using the old car, but rather it was down to the way we ran it and an unexpected reliability issue which was due to problems on quality control from a supplier. All the evolution components we fitted to the STR2 completed big mileages in winter testing and when we came to the races, they then threw up some difficulties. Nevertheless, we picked up two points in the first five races using this car.
The STR 3 is a much better car. Introducing it once the season was underway was the wise choice although its introduction has not been painless. We suffered a significant lack of parts which delayed the introduction of the new car from Turkey to Monaco. I think, as I've said before that we were brave, mad and clever to launch the car in Monaco, because it did pay off. We handled a difficult situation in terms of parts rather well and this weekend at Silverstone should be the first race where we have sufficient parts to race at a decent level. One side effect of this will be that our drivers will feel freer to take a few more risks, because up until now, they have been very mindful of our parts availability situation. I hope they will now be more daring and consequently go faster!
We are not yet where we should be with the new car. The last race in France produced a good qualifying and race, but I feel that neither our drivers nor we engineers have yet taken the best out of the car. We still have a steep learning curve and there is more to come. This is partly due to the fact that we adopted a significant aero upgrade for the Magny Cours race having only had the briefest of tests in Barcelona. It changed the car quite significantly and we are still learning how to get the most out of the new package.
With Red Bull Technology on the chassis side and Ferrari supplying our engines, we can count on two very strong partners. Now we have reached the point in the season where we are already working towards the 2009 car. However, before then, there is the small matter of the remaining ten races to deal with. Of the coming circuits, the high speed ones favour us a bit more, so we should be alright everywhere except Hungary. So far this year, we have scored points in races where there have been unusual incidents involving front runners. At the moment, we still need these sorts of situations to pick up points. However, the big difference between Scuderia Toro Rosso now and in the past is that, now, when those situations have arisen, we have taken them: this year there have been three chances and we took them all. Last year, out of three chances we only took one. I believe this is a trend that should continue. Today, we are more mature as a team, but much will depend on how our nearest rivals progress over the second half of the season.
-credit: toro rosso