Toro Rosso could not repeat its shock 2008 race win this year, but by the end of the season, Sebastien Buemi was getting it back in the top 10 on a regular basis. Now the team has to start from scratch, with a rules clarification forcing it to sever its design ties with parent operation Red Bull.
Toro Rosso chief Franz Tost told AUTOSPORT how preparations for the new era were progressing.
Q. How are preparations for 2010 going?
Franz Tost: We are on schedule. Now we have to design the car for ourselves in Faenza, and the team is doing a good job. I'm looking forward to the new design.
Q. Have the cost cuts made this project easier, or has that complicated things?
FT: Cost cutting is always complicated in Formula 1 because everything is quite expensive and it's really not easy to start such a project under pressure to keep the costs down as much as possible. It's not an easy exercise, but we do our best.
Q. Obviously the original plan for the team was to use designs from Red Bull Technologies, so your own design capability was reduced. How hard was it to ramp that up again?
FT: Fortunately we always kept some designers, and therefore we didn't need to start from zero. But it's not easy to bring in the correct people, with the skills, who will work together well. We have to see how everything will come out during the winter time. As far as I can see, they're doing a good job. But we will see when the car is out on the track and we know the lap times.
Q. Is Giorgio Ascanelli in charge of the actual design, or just leading the technical team?
FT: He is the head, he is the technical director and head of the design team and the technical structure of Toro Rosso. The chief designer is Ben Butler.
Q. How many additional staff have you had to recruit in preparation for designing your own car?
FT: We are currently, taking into account the design and production of the car, close to 200 people, and I expect we will bring in some other people during next season, but that depends – first we have to see where we end up with this car, and then we will see where we need to improve the performance of the team.
Q. Does the design have to be a totally clean break from this year's car to satisfy the terms of the Concorde Agreement?
FT: That's clear from the definition of the Concorde Agreement. The regulation forces us to design a completely new car because as you know there is no more refueling during the races next year. That means that the fuel tank is much larger, and the complete design philosophy of the car has to be changed. You have a new wheelbase, you have a different weight distribution, and all of this affects us and forces us into designing a completely new car.
Q. But some other teams have said that there is a lot that can be carried over from this year...
FT: Yes, there are carry-over parts.
Q. You don't have to make every single bit different to prove you're an independent constructor?
FT: Hopefully not, from the financial point is view it would be good if they find some carry-over parts, and also on the performance side the car looks quite fast. Unfortunately, as far as I can see up to now, there are not so many carry-over parts.
Q. But there's no intellectual property issue there?
Q. It's been a difficult season for Toro Rosso compared to last year. Has the fact that you've had to prepare for next year been a factor in this?
FT: No. We had a fantastically good year last year. We were forced to change two drivers. Originally it was planned that we would do the year with [Sebastien] Bourdais and [Sebastien] Buemi. The background was that we wanted to have one experienced driver and we expected that Bourdais in his second year would become the leading driver in the team. For whatever reason, it didn't work as we expected, and therefore we decided to change the driver during the year.
That meant the team had two completely new drivers in 2009, and to change two drivers is a really big challenge because you start with zero. If the drivers are also inexperienced, the exercise is doubly difficult. But Dietrich Mateschitz bought this team to give young drivers a chance, and this is our philosophy. We have to stick to this philosophy, and I'm quite confident that from the middle of next year onward we will have a good driver lineup, because then [Jaime] Alguersuari will know all the tracks, and Buemi is already increasing his performance. The last few races were quite good.
The crashes he had are part of the game. A young driver needs to find the limit of the car. I call it the 'crash period', and it's as important in this learning process and gaining experience as anything else. Therefore for me it's obvious that a driver sometimes has to crash. If he is a young driver he has to learn the limit of the car – I don't have a problem with this. Alguersuari is also improving his performance, and so far I'm quite optimistic about the future.
Q. Of course, that situation is made worse with no testing...
FT: Having no testing makes life for the young drivers doubly difficult, but we can't have everything. On one side we want to cut costs, and on the other hand we want to give young drivers the chance to test. We can't have both. Testing costs money, and as soon as the car is out testing, you spend a lot of money. All of the teams have decided to stop testing, so it's the same for everyone. OK, it's a disadvantage at the beginning for the newcomers, but later it will be equal for everyone and it won't be a disadvantage.
Q. Do you see parallels in Buemi's and Alguersuari's improvement with how Sebastian Vettel made a step up in his second season?
FT: There are similar processes that we can observe. It depends on how good our car will be next year. If the car shows good performance, I'm convinced that both drivers will continue with their learning process, and so far their gradient [of improvement] is quite steep – and I'm happy with this.
Q. Do you expect a bit of a step back in performance at the start of next season now that you're designing and developing your own car?
FT: It's difficult to say. We have to design the car by ourselves, we have to build the car as well and the infrastructure still needs to be improved. This will take time. We just have to wait and see. I can only hope that the experience of the designers is good enough and they will do a good job. The rest we will see. Top teams have sometimes brought out a not fantastic car. I hope that we, as a small team, can do a good job and bring a car to the racetrack that can achieve good positions from the beginning.
Q. Will you run at the young driver test in December?
FT: Yes, we will test Brendon Hartley and we will see if a second driver comes to join us from Red Bull for this test.
Q. Are you relieved that the Sebastien Loeb situation is finished?
FT: I don't know yet. I understand that Sebastien Loeb wants to do a Formula 1 race and I think the idea is quite good because he is six times World Rally Champion and just the comparison between the best rally driver in the world and the best Formula 1 drivers would be quite interesting. But to do such a race, he must be prepared. That means something like three test days just to get used to everything. It's quite complicated even to do the starting process.
We observed this with our drivers this year. It's not so easy just to come in and think you can do everything. There are so many switches and so many mappings you have to take care of. Apart from that, to drive Formula 1 cars nowadays is not so easy. But if Loeb has the time to test and to be prepared, there's no reason why he couldn't do a proper job.
Q. Was Red Bull planning to put him in the Toro Rosso in Abu Dhabi if the FIA had given him a superlicense?
FT: It was discussed, but in the end because he did not get the superlicense from the FIA it was useless to continue discussing this.
Q. But how far had the plan gone – was it just an initial idea or was the decision?
FT: I don't know. This is, in the end, a decision by Red Bull.