Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Scuderia Toro Rosso today announced their 2012 driver line-up, surprisingly the Italian Red Bull sister team has elected to start the 2012 season with two drivers from the Red Bull Junior Driver program: Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, which means Spanish driver Jaime Alguersuari and Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi will have to look for new opportunities elsewhere.
Toro Rosso earlier indicated a whole new driver line-up would be one of the possibilities, and Team Principal Franz Tost was happy a decision was finally made. “I am pleased that we have been able to reach an early decision on our drivers for next year, because it means we can all give our full attention to 2012, without any distractions,” the Austrian said.
He is also adamant both Vergne and Ricciardo are suitable for the job that lies ahead, “Over the past year, both Daniel and Jean-Eric have proved their worth and I expect them to make a significant contribution to the team’s performance next year. Daniel has the benefit of having actually raced in Grands Prix for much of this year, while Jean-Eric proved he could adapt quickly to the demands of driving a Formula One car.”
Australian Ricciardo was test driver for Toro Rosso, but was moved to the Spanish HRT outfit to learn the ropes and has now 11 Grands Prix behind the belt. The 22-year old was of course pleased with the announcement. “This is a really big deal for me and something I have wanted ever since I was driving for Toro Rosso on Friday mornings at the races in the first part of last season. To be honest, I am still jumping up and down with excitement at the news,” said Ricciardo.
Frenchman Vergne was equally enthusiastic, “I must thank Red Bull for all their support so far and for believing I am ready to take on the ultimate challenge of racing in Formula One. Christmas has come early for me this year!”
Asked whether he is up to the challenge Vergne had no doubts, “Having driven for them a few times this year and also testing for Red Bull Racing in Abu Dhabi, I definitely feel ready to make the move, even if I know there is a big difference between testing and actually racing. I enjoyed working with the guys at Toro Rosso this year and I can’t wait to be part of the team for real. Sitting on the grid in Melbourne next March cannot come soon enough.”
Also Ricciardo had no doubts and feels he is ready to drive for the Italian team, and said referring to his time with HRT, “I learned a lot from the people I worked with, racing in 11 Grands Prix and I want to thank them for the opportunity they gave me.” Also for him a dream has come true, “I have to say that joining Scuderia Toro Rosso was always my real goal, so a big thank you to Red Bull for giving me this fantastic opportunity and now I can’t wait to get to work once testing begins.”
Tost also is confident the youngsters will perform well, “As they have both worked with the team and its engineers very recently, this should allow us to get up to speed right from the start of winter testing in a couple of months’ time.”
Tost thanked Alguersuari and Buemi for their excellent work during the past three years, “They have delivered some excellent performances which have helped the team move forward and develop. We wish them well for the future.”
Although the announcement was not good news for Alguersuari and Buemi, Tost reminded them of the objectives of the Red Bull Junior Driver program, “One has to remember that when Scuderia Toro Rosso was established in 2005, it was done so with the intention of providing a first step into Formula 1 for the youngsters in the Red Bull Junior Driver programme. It is therefore part of the team’s culture to change its driver line-up from time to time in order to achieve this goal.”
Ricciardo won the Formula Renault 2.0 WEC in 2008, and won the British Formula Three Championship in 2009 before he moved to Toro Rosso as a test driver in 2010. 21-year old Vergne won the Formula Campus Renault series in 2007, and in 2010 won the British Formula Three Championship for Carlin Motorsport. This season he became second in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, and occasionally took over the role of Toro Rosso test driver after Ricciardo joined HRT.
Toro Rosso started their full Formula One career in 2006 after buying the Minardi team at the end of 2005, after one year racing with Cosworth engines they switched to Ferrari engines in 2007. Most successful Toro Rosso driver was of course Sebastian Vettel, who scored the team’s one and only Grand Prix win on home soil during the 2008 Italian Grand Prix at Monza.