Analysis: Why F1 can't afford to lose Toro Rosso

Much is made of the potential loss of Red Bull from Formula 1 next season, but, as Valentin Khorounzhiy argues, the disappearance of Toro Rosso could also have far-reaching consequences for a risk-averse sport.

Analysis: Why F1 can't afford to lose Toro Rosso
Sébastien Bourdais, Scuderia Toro Rosso leads Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Toro Rosso
Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Sébastien Bourdais, Scuderia Toro Rosso
Scott Speed, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Scuderia Toro Ross
Daniel Ricciardo, Scuderia Toro Rosso STR8 leads Jean-Eric Vergne, Scuderia Toro Rosso STR8
James Calado, Sahara Force India Third Driver
Robin Frijns, Caterham Test and Reserve Driver
Jean-Eric Vergne, Scuderia Toro Rosso STR8 leads team mate Daniel Ricciardo, Scuderia Toro Rosso STR8
Giancarlo Fisichella, Scuderia Ferrari and Romain Grosjean, Renault F1 Team
Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1 Team, Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber F1 Team
Sébastien Buemi, Scuderia Toro Rosso and Jaime Alguersuari, Scuderia Toro Rosso
Jaime Alguersuari, Scuderia Toro Rosso and Sébastien Buemi, Scuderia Toro Rosso
Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Sébastien Bourdais, Scuderia Toro Rosso
Carlos Sainz Jr., Scuderia Toro Rosso, Max Verstappen, Scuderia Toro Rosso
Daniel Ricciardo, Scuderia Toro Rosso and Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing
Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 Team and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 Team
Ferrari team celebrations: race winner and 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen celebrates with Felipe Massa, Jean Todt and Ferrari team members
(L to R): Felipe Massa, Ferrari with Jean Todt, FIA President and Fernando Alonso, Ferrari
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari on the grid
2015 champion Stoffel Vandoorne, ART Grand Prix

With the seemingly never-ending Red Bull engine crisis appearing to be nowhere near a satisfactory resolution, Formula 1 still faces the very real possibility of the Austrian team packing up its bags and leaving.

And the consensus among the F1 fanbase is that, should they exit the sport, they would've had it coming.

Whether that's true or not, whether Red Bull treated its partners fairly, gave Renault enough credit or demanded too much from Mercedes and Ferrari is a topic for an entirely different column, but it might just be irrelevant in light of the possibility of F1 coming up four cars short next season.

And, perhaps, the most tragic outcome of that potential exit would be the loss of Scuderia Toro Rosso – a team that has been a driving force of change in the stagnant, risk-averse F1 driver market.

Talent logjam

The massive, expansive junior ladder below F1 produces potential future stars every year and it is crucial that the sport somehow finds a way to slot them into the sport.

Usually, that role is played by the minnows, but the uncompetitive nature of F1's newer teams (and their subsequent demises) combined with the fact more established midfield squads have been swimming in debt means that the best and brightest juniors are not having an easy time entering the sport.

This is how we've arrived at a situation the likes of Robin Frijns and James Calado have not gotten a shot at F1 despite superb stints in FR3.5 and GP2 respectively – and a situation where Stoffel Vandoorne, who ruled GP2 with an iron fist in 2015, is facing a 2016 on the sidelines.

Hiring juniors is, understandably, a risk, and you shouldn't expect financially embattled teams like Sauber, Force India and Lotus to do so unless absolutely necessary.

Ferrari and Mercedes on the other hand can theoretically afford to take a punt on the best juniors out there - but they don't, unwilling to sacrifice one of the points-paying seats for the goal.

Toro Rosso, meanwhile, means Red Bull has no such problem.

Table of newcomers and driver changes (2006-2015)

Team

Debut

GPs

Rookie seasons

(>50% of GPs)

Number of

drivers

Lotus (Renault)
4 4 12
 McLaren 2 2 9
Ferrari 0 0 7
 Williams 5 5 10
Mercedes (Honda, Brawn)
0 0 5
 Red Bull 0 0 6
 Sauber (BMW)
5 4 12
Force India (Midland, Spyker)
1 1 8
 Toro Rosso 8 10 11
 Manor (Virgin, Marussia)
6 6 8

Over its 10 years in Formula 1, Toro Rosso gave eight drivers their debuts – and 10 racers spent their first full season with the squad. No other organisation can boast that record and understandably so, for providing a launchpad for emerging F1 careers is STR's very purpose.

But while lots of very valid questions can be raised about STR's treatment of its drivers, the famous late December firings of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari being a vivid example, the fact remains that its services have been invaluable to F1.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel had his debut season with Toro Rosso, Daniel Ricciardo honed his skills under the team's wing to later become the sport's 'MVP' last year, and it now fields two spectacular drivers in Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz.

Perhaps all of those four would have been able to find a place in F1 without STR being around, but it would've been at someone else's expense – and the sport didn't exactly have many drivers undeserving of their seats over the past few years.

Stagnation at the top

Despite having Toro Rosso at their disposal, it's arguable that Red Bull held on to its Webber/Vettel line-up for a bit too long – five seasons, between 2009 and 2013.

But its approach seems to have changed more recently as it opted for the relatively unproven Ricciardo over a more experienced candidate like Kimi Raikkonen when Webber retired, and then replaced Ferrari-bound Vettel with Kvyat with little hesitation.

Meanwhile, the Brackley squad, despite having gone through two major identity changes, has switched all of three drivers over the past 10 years. Ferrari's record, if you exclude replacement drivers Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella, is basically identical, despite the fact the team's second drivers have gotten slack for being uncompetitive year after year.

That's not to say frontrunning F1 teams have completely refused to take chances with rookies or, at the very least, line-up changes – McLaren has given two drivers their debuts and both, in their first F1 race, stood on the podium.

For some reason, however, it's no longer fond of that approach, and an obvious third debutant will have to wait until at least 2017.

Fallout

If Red Bull and Toro Rosso exit, the grid could be stuck at 18 cars and four super-strong drivers will be out of a seat.

Even if we assume that that quartet won't be in the hunt for '16 seats with other teams, that still leaves the market in a rather precarious position, with no changes at Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Force India or Sauber.

And while Romain Grosjean's decision to switch to Haas could've shaken things up, Enstone's remaining driver Pastor Maldonado has made it clear he wants an experienced teammate alongside – while Haas is extremely unlikely to take on a rookie as well.

In other words, all ports of entry to F1, save for Manor (which could very well keep its current line-up), will be closed.

Of course, the solution could be third cars – it certainly seems favored by Mercedes' boss Toto Wolff among others – but for that to be meaningful in terms of opportunities for juniors, F1 would probably have to write in a rule, limiting those cars to drivers with less than a certain number of Grands Prix under their belts.

But would that really make up for a loss of four cars, supplied by an organisation that has been willing, able and successful at introducing new stars into the sport?

shares
comments
McLaren brings gearboxes "back from the dead"

Previous article

McLaren brings gearboxes "back from the dead"

Next article

Modern F1 drivers “don’t get to develop as men” - Mansell

Modern F1 drivers “don’t get to develop as men” - Mansell
Load comments
The hidden Ferrari struggle that Sainz’s recent charge put to rest Prime

The hidden Ferrari struggle that Sainz’s recent charge put to rest

Despite appearing to adjust to life as a Ferrari driver with relative ease, it was far from straightforward under the surface for Carlos Sainz. But, having made breakthroughs in rather different routes at the Russian and Turkish races, he’s now targeting even greater feats for the rest of the Formula 1 season

The final throes of Brazil's fleetingly successful F1 team Prime

The final throes of Brazil's fleetingly successful F1 team

Emerson Fittipaldi is better remembered for his Formula 1 world championships and Indianapolis 500 successes than for the spell running his eponymous F1 team. Despite a hugely talented roll call of staff, it was a period of internal strife, limited funding and few results - as remembered by Tim Wright.

Formula 1
Oct 18, 2021
Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence Prime

Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence

In the 1960s and 1970s, McLaren juggled works entries in F1, sportscars and the Indy 500 while building cars for F3 and F2. Now it’s returning to its roots, expanding into IndyCars and Extreme E while continuing its F1 renaissance. There’s talk of Formula E and WEC entries too. But is this all too much, too soon? Stuart Codling talks to the man in charge.

Formula 1
Oct 17, 2021
How Tsunoda plans to achieve his F1 potential Prime

How Tsunoda plans to achieve his F1 potential

Yuki Tsunoda arrived in grand prix racing amid a whirlwind of hype, which only increased after his first race impressed the biggest wigs in Formula 1. His road since has been rocky and crash-filled, and OLEG KARPOV asks why Red Bull maintains faith in a driver who admits he isn’t really that big a fan of F1?

Formula 1
Oct 15, 2021
The danger of reading too much into F1's clickbait radio messages Prime

The danger of reading too much into F1's clickbait radio messages

OPINION: After Lewis Hamilton responded to reports labelling him 'furious' with Mercedes following his heated exchanges over team radio during the Russian Grand Prix, it provided a snapshot on how Formula 1 broadcasting radio snippets can both illuminate and misrepresent the true situation

Formula 1
Oct 14, 2021
How F1’s pole winner approach undermines drivers Prime

How F1’s pole winner approach undermines drivers

OPINION: Valtteri Bottas is credited with pole position for the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix, despite being beaten in qualifying. This is another example of Formula 1 and the FIA scoring an own goal by forgetting what makes motorsport magic, with the Istanbul race winner also a victim of this in the championship’s recent history

Formula 1
Oct 13, 2021
Turkish Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Turkish Grand Prix driver ratings

On a day that the number two Mercedes enjoyed a rare day in the sun, the Turkish Grand Prix produced several standout drives - not least from a driver who has hit a purple patch of late

Formula 1
Oct 11, 2021
The hidden factors that thwarted Hamilton's bid for Turkey glory Prime

The hidden factors that thwarted Hamilton's bid for Turkey glory

Starting 11th after his engine change grid penalty, Lewis Hamilton faced a tough task to repeat his Turkish Grand Prix heroics of 2020 - despite making strong early progress in the wet. Instead, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas broke through for a first win of the year to mitigate Max Verstappen re-taking the points lead

Formula 1
Oct 11, 2021