Scuderia Toro Rosso are currently lying seventh in the constructors’ title race with eight points behind Force India in fifth and half as much of that to Lotus in sixth. On paper quite frankly this doesn’t sound extraordinary but their story in the first-half of the season has more than what meets the eyes.
Let me put it this way: The Italian team are widely regarded to have probably the best chassis design next to the works Mercedes pair thanks to technical director James Key and with only half the season over, they are merely 10 points away from matching their best points tally accomplished back in 2011.
The breeding ground for Red Bull is not known for being sympathetic towards its academy youngsters; testified by the fact that no more than two years a constant driver pair had existed. Yet when you nurture talents like Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat you can never be complained.
Ahead of 2015, the Russian Kvyat was prompted to replace the outgoing quadruple champion Vettel thus triggering a shake-up at the sister Toro Rosso outfit. After three years of service, Jean Eric Vergne relinquished his race seat making way for the Formula Renault 3.5 champion Carlos Sainz Jr. and European F3 title contender Max Verstappen.
Verstappen’s appointment days after joining the Red Bull Drivers Programme raised questions as the then 16-year-old teenager was not even qualified for obtaining road license. His meteoric rise to fame was evident from his endowment behind the wheel as he proved in the three practice session runs in Japan, USA and Brazil as part of preparation for 2015.
In Australia, he became the youngest driver to compete in Grand Prix racing and could hold that record forever with the FIA revising superlicense rules in the wake of his debut. With the inexperienced duo of Verstappen and the 20-year-old Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso were setting them up for a year of learning just as it had been in the past.
However, they bore witness from the outset that age was not an excuse by qualifying 8th and 12th respectively. While Sainz Jr. converted P8 to two points in Melbourne, his Dutch teammate running as high as ninth was let down with engine issues and had to retire.
Continuing their impressive debut, the Dutch teenager Verstappen and Spaniard Sainz came home seventh and eighth at Sepang. The Faenza-based team’s only double-points finish thus far unfolded with Sainz unable to improve on the wet track in Q1 putting him on the back of the grid in 15th.
His consistent race day pace combined with Verstappen finishing on the lead lap in seventh, after qualifying on an impressive third row, earned the rookies utmost plaudits as they pipped both the Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat.
Despite producing some brilliant overtakes, the teenager Verstappen grounded to a halt with problems incurred on the drivetrain in the closing stages of Chinese GP where his teammate also endured a torrid time completing the race 13th.
A double retirement in Bahrain would follow as Verstappen called the inferior Renault engines as “a bit of a nightmare”. At the European leg, Toro Rosso were keen to eradicate reliability problems despite often qualifying well in the top 10. They lost out more places at the start and had to play catch up due to the pace deficiency and thus the discontinuity in efficient race results.
Verstappen was criticised for his overoptimistic move on Grosjean at Sainte Devote in Monaco while fighting for tenth position. But, unruffled by the critics on the crash that sent him flying into the barriers, he put the blame on the Frenchman for braking too early which he ultimately denied.
Regardless of the lacklustre performance on the power-thirsty Canadian GP that exposed engine supplier Renault’s weakness yet again, the team’s aero efficiency and chassis strengths came together at the tight sectors of the Red Bull Ring.
After five races without points, Verstappen took home a much-needed eighth place while Sainz fell victim to another electrical problem before his progress would scupper in the next two races in Silverstone and Budapest by persistent car issues.
The last race before the summer-break in Hungary was Verstappen’s highlight as he finished just shy of podium in fourth. While knowing the importance in carrying that momentum into the second-half of the season, he must be aware of shaking off the rookie mistakes he encountered in the races.
The Spanish rookie Carlos Sainz’s best moment has certainly been starting his home race fifth on the grid where he collected two points. Leading his teammate six to four in qualifying comparison, reliability woes meant that his consistent pace didn’t yield much in terms of race results.
Toro Rosso Team Principal Franz Tost praised Verstappen and Sainz’s dedication, leadership and most of all the maturity in their rookie year. While we do the same, it’s inevitable that both youngsters will be pushing the boundaries to help Toro Rosso’s target of ending the season as the ‘best-of-the-rest’ as Renault are expected to bring a major upgrade package to Sochi.