Q&A with Toro Rosso drivers The Spanish GP signals the start of the European part of the season: a good time to the Toro Rosso drivers and team principal about the season so far and expectations for the upcoming races.
Are you looking forward to the Spanish Grand Prix?
JA: “Yes, because every time I have raced here it is has been special as it is my home track and there is plenty of support for me, making for a great atmosphere. This will be the first time I race in the Spanish Grand Prix and I expect there will be a lot of my friends and fans coming to watch, also because there are several Spanish drivers on the grid this year. One important factor is that this is the first track of the season I have driven on before, so that should make life easier for me.”
Will you treat this race differently to any other?
JA: “No, because after all, it is just one more round of the championship. However, as a home race, all the support from the fans will make a slight difference, in the same way that football teams have an advantage playing a Home match. But in the way we will go about doing our work, it will be the same as all the others.”
You scored your first F1 points in Malaysia. Did you expect that to happen so early in the season?
JA: “No, because there is so much for me still to learn. I am like a sponge at the moment, absorbing every bit of experience I can. The speed is coming, but I am still not getting one hundred percent out of the car and this will get easier as I learn the tracks and get more confident, so I am expecting a lot from the Barcelona weekend.”
You have been involved in some exciting duels on the track. Have you enjoyed that?
JA: “At the moment we don’t have a winning car so we have to battle for points. It’s the only chance we have. When you get in the car you are relaxed but aggressive because you know you are going to fight. And that is what we drivers like; we don’t like to race on our own having an easy race. Of course we all want to win but it’s more fun to fight someone and it’s been like that since I was go-karting. That has always been my mentality to be aggressive and to win the fight.”
Your opinion of the Catalunya track?
JA: “Catalunya is a very nice track as it has a good variety of slow, medium and high speed corners and it is very technical. Corners like the blind Turn 7 are very exciting and there are some overtaking opportunities, especially the first corner, as long as you get a good run out of the final turn. The circuit layout tests every aspect of a car’s performance, aero, mechanical, engine, so if the STR5 works well here, it will be a good sign for the rest of the year.”
How would you describe your first part of this season?
SB: “In the past, in other formulas, I’ve had some poor starts, but in terms of experiencing bad luck and suffering from a few technical problems, I cannot remember one quite as tough as this, so it’s a case of there being a first time for everything! The first four races have been very difficult to deal with, especially when in three of them I have been knocked out by other drivers’ accidents. Therefore I hope Barcelona will be a turning point with an improvement in my situation.”
How would you assess your car, the STR5 in terms of its performance?
SB: “I believe in terms of theoretical pace, the car is certainly capable of putting us just outside the top ten, making us the sixth team, whereas currently we are eighth in the championship. We have had difficulties, but on a positive note the car is definitely competitive and I am reasonably confident that in the coming races we will be able to score points. Not only does the car show potential, but also the team is working very hard and doing a good job. You also need a bit of luck in Formula 1, so I hope this is the weekend when my luck will change for the better and I can have a trouble-free weekend, with a good result waiting at the end of it.”
Last week, you drove at Vairano, completing an aerodynamics test. Was the work you did aimed at the Spanish Grand Prix?
SB: “No, the aim was a bit more long-term, looking at developments for a bit later in the season. The main objective was to validate some of our research work, to see if the track produced the same results and data as we have seen in the wind tunnel. It went very well, which with only four aero tests permitted during the year, was very important and the team was pleased with the results we obtained. Now, the engineers have to analyze all the data thoroughly to ensure we move forward in the right direction.”
You are now well into your second F1 season. How do you feel about the job compared to your debut year?
SB: “I am much better prepared, physically and mentally and I am making far fewer mistakes than last year. Now, I have to keep pushing, because the speed is there, the ability to get a good result is also there and I have already managed some good qualifying performances. What we need to do is put together the perfect weekend, with no bad luck or technical problems, as we know how important it is to have a good Friday practice. I believe I am capable of doing much better, so I am very much looking forward to Barcelona, a track I know well, where I am convinced we can have a good race.”
The media spotlight will focus on your team-mate this weekend, as he is the “local boy.” Does the fact that Jaime now has more experience with a few more races under his belt help you, in terms of what he can bring to the team?
SB: “In the half season he did last year, he was a long way back, which made it difficult for him to contribute much in the briefings and in terms of developing the car. Now, he has improved a lot and is much faster and therefore able to provide much better feedback. This is entirely positive, as it means we can work together better to move the car forward.”
Before the season, you said we had to finish in the top eight in the Constructors’ championship and currently that’s where we are. Does that mean you are happy with the team’s performance so far?
FT: “Not entirely, as we could have had better results. Through reliability problems, we lost some Friday sessions and in such a closely contested championship, every minute of track time is vital to set up the car correctly and to get the most out of the package. On top of that, in the races, our drivers have been involved in accidents, generally not their own fault, which has cost them a finish in the points. Analyzing the actual race performance, it’s clear we should have picked up more points than the two we have so far. However, I am optimistic that our package is capable of delivering more points in the near future.”
What is your assessment of the STR5, the first car we have designed completely in-house?
FT: “The STR5 seems quite competitive in terms of performance, however, you can only be truly happy if you win races, but within the limitations of our resources, I believe we are working in an efficient manner and making progress, because building the infrastructure to become a front-running team takes time. We are on the right road.”
For the fourth consecutive year, the team is using Ferrari engines, which have experienced some problems this year, with the Ferrari team itself and its other customer team. How is it that we seem to have avoided these issues?
FT: “It is possible that we have adopted a more cautious approach in the way we manage the engines. This does not mean we can afford to be complacent as engine failures are always a possibility.”
In Barcelona, the spotlight will be on local boy Jaime Alguersuari. How do you assess his season so far?
FT: “He has made a great step forward from when he competed in the second half of last season. In that time, he discovered how much he had to learn and the level of commitment required to become a successful Formula 1 driver. He was clever enough to understand this and therefore he put himself through a very intensive and disciplined testing and physical training program and everyone in the team is impressed by his progress, so we expect him to deliver very good race results at some point this year.”
And what about our “veteran” Buemi?
FT: “Sebastien’s performance this year has been much better than the results would indicate. Apart from at the opening round in Bahrain, every race has seen him involved in accidents not of his own making: twice with Kobayashi and in China with Liuzzi. I have absolutely no doubt he will deliver some very good results soon.”
There have been some interesting technical developments in these early races. Can Scuderia Toro Rosso keep pushing on this front as the season progresses?
FT: “Our technical department is working very hard and we will deliver some updates over the forthcoming races and I believe we can step up in terms of our performance level. Specifically for the Spanish Grand Prix, we will introduce new brake ducts and a new engine cover. In the last couple of races we already saw an improvement in our package, so in Barcelona, I would hope that if we do everything perfectly, we could get at least one driver through into Qualifying 3 for the first time this season, or if not, then at least very close to tenth on the grid, so that more points has to be a realistic target for us this weekend. Both drivers tested here during the winter and for Jaime specifically, it is his home race, on the first track of the year that is not new to him, where he has competed on a regular basis in the lower formulae.”