OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
2012 will be a very interesting season for Scuderia Toro Rosso. Their decision, controversial to some, to sack Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari before Christmas was very interesting. Buemi and Alguersuari both put in many notable and solid drives in 2011, so there was a degree of surprise that both drivers got the axe from team principal Franz Tost.
Tost, who has fired Scott Speed and Sebastian Bourdais unceremonisuly in the past said that both drivers simply didn’t have the capabilities to win races and move the team up the grid. Although Buemi had been with the outfit since 2009, Alguersuari was considered unlucky, especially as he raised his game in the second half of the season and still only 22, was proving a solid, if unspectacular driver at Grand Prix level. He has been left in limbo by the axing, whilst Buemi at least did become Red Bull’s reserve driver. Despite this, the Swiss has been recently signed up by Toyota for their Le Mans programme, so a career in endurance racing beckons.
Consequently, it is a case of out with the old and in with the new at the Italian team. Two youngsters will spearhead their attack, in the form of Australian Daniel Riccardo and Frenchman, Jean-Eric Vergne. Vergne, 21, is the 2010 British F3 champion and is one of the hottest properties from French motorsport since Jean Alesi burst onto the F1 scene back in 1989. Last year, he was runner-up in the Formula Renault series, so although naturally groomed as part of the Red Bull Young Drivers programme, his lack of GP2 or GP3 experience could be seen as a worry. Vergne did star in the Abu Dhabi Young Drivers Test last November and looked quick in practice sessions in Abu Dhabi and Brazil at the back end of last season for Toro Rosso. However, it is a gamble to throw him straight into Grand Prix racing and I hope it will pay off for his career.
Riccardo has been prominent for a while and already has a taste of Grand Prix experience. He made his debut for the Hispania Racing team at the British Grand Prix last season. Having outpaced the experienced Vitantonio Liuzzi on a regular basis, the Australian’s promotion into the Toro Rosso is seen as a natural progression. Perhaps he is the solution that Red Bull are looking at, when Mark Webber eventually decides to stop competing in F1. However, he has only taken part in 11 races himself, so it will be a huge test for Riccardo, as he will be expected to be team leader and show Vergne the way.
Early testing signs show plenty of promise, but pressure will be on the drivers. Tost will expect Toro Rosso to at the minimum, beat Sauber in this year’s constructors championship and challenge for a top six constructors placing. If the drivers don’t perform from the start, the team boss might regret his gamble in getting rid of proven drivers, Buemi and Alguersuari.