Season Preview: Toro Rosso

In many ways the 2012 season was a disappointment for Toro Rosso. The Red Bull sister team only managed ten points scoring finishes all season and finished well adrift of the rest of the midfield in ninth place.

The team suffered from having a narrow set-up window on their car all year, which meant that how well the car worked was down to the characteristics of each circuit, and if the car didn’t work when Friday practice got underway, they were then stuck with it for the whole weekend with no way of making the car better.

This is something that Toro Rosso have worked hard to rectify over the winter, and it appears from testing as though progress has been made. The new car has shown some impressive pace, and although maybe not quick enough to catch the likes of Force India and Williams, the team will be confident they can at least compete with them on a more regular basis this year.

Both Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo had solid first full seasons in 2012, and with a year’s experience in the team and a potential seat at Red Bull up for grabs in 2014, it is an important season for the pair as they look to further their career prospects.

18) Jean-Eric Vergne

2012 proved to be a solid rookie year for Jean-Eric Vergne. The Frenchman struggled at times, particularly in qualifying where he failed to make it through Q1 on eight occasions, but he did show promising race pace throughout the season, with four eighth place finishes enough for him to beat teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the drivers’ standings.

Vergne’s drives in Malaysia and Brazil highlighted the Frenchman’s strong talents in changeable weather, and he also impressed in the rain in testing at Barcelona, which shows that he is extremely proficient in low grip conditions. He was also set for an exceptional points finish at Monaco before a strategy error from his team relegated him to 12th place.

The season is set to be an important one for Vergne. Although his qualifying speed let him down last year, he was generally more than a match for teammate Ricciardo, and with there being a potential opening at Red Bull for a race seat in 2014, if he can produce strong results on a more consistent basis then he has a great chance of landing a seat at one of F1’s top teams in the future.

19) Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo had a reasonably strong year in 2012. The young Australian showed plenty of promise in his first full season and produced plenty of good drives. Although he lost out to teammate Vergne in the championship standings, Ricciardo finished in the points more times than his teammate and with a bit more luck could have ended the season as the higher placed Toro Rosso driver.

Ricciardo, who drove in 11 races for HRT in 2011, also proved himself to be quick over a single lap last year. He outqualified Vergne 16 times in 20 races and produced arguably the qualifying performance of the season when he put his car in an incredible sixth place on the grid in Bahrain.

The Australian driver will be eager to push on from a promising 2012 and, with a little bit more consistency in the races, could well establish himself as the favourite for that Red Bull drive in 2014 if Mark Webber decides to move on.

Hopes for the season
The high point in Toro Rosso’s history came in 2008, when the team finished sixth in the constructors’ championship and Sebastian Vettel took an outstanding win at Monza.

However, that was back in the days when Red Bull supplied the team with a car, and since they have had to design their own chassis, Toro Rosso have struggled to match those heights, with an eighth place finish in 2011 their best performance.

Although expecting the team to challenge at the front of the midfield once again is probably being optimistic, if they can deliver on the potential they’ve shown in testing Toro Rosso should be aiming at joining Sauber, Force India and Williams in regularly fighting for points and there’s no reason why the team can’t go on and beat at least one of them in the constructors’ championship if they do take a step forward this year.

Stephen D’Albiac

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