Features - 2011 Grand Prix Review
JANUARY 8, 2012
Scuderia Toro Rosso
BY TONY DODGINS
Pos 8: Scuderia Toro Rosso
Sebastien Buemi (CH); Jaime Alguersuari (E)
Points: 41; Best finish: 7th (Monza, Korea)
Toro Rosso finished the 2010 season ninth in the final championship classification. Matter-of-fact technical director Giorgio Ascanelli thought that was about right. If they'd been tenth, he said, they should have been shot, and if they'd been eighth it would have been a miracle.
Well, without divine intervention in 2011 the team from Faenza was eighth, outscoring Williams by no less than 39 points. Another four points would have put them in front of seventh-placed Sauber, with whom they shared Ferrari engines.
The STR6 was an interesting design, featuring a twin-floor concept with raised sidepods to allow better airflow to the rear in an attempt to recover lost downforce from the double diffuser ban.
On launch it was likened to the F92A Ferrari from 1992 but Ascanelli says, "that wasn't in the equation because the expansion of the diffuser in those days was about seven times as much as now!
"We started with a traditional car, dedicated a month of development and then started another month on the more radical car and saw where the two arrived. There was an edge on the one we used.
"The difficulty was that the exhaust was more difficult to install. You had to have a kink in it and it was about getting to higher exhaust velocities without destroying the engine."
"With a traditional car I don't think we would have been fighting with Sauber and Force India for sixth and seventh."
It was a great effort given that Toro Rosso is around half the size of an operation like Williams which, admittedly, did not see the gains it was hoping for with an approach to the rear end of its FW33 that was also radical but in a different way.
Ascanelli was satisfied with 2011 because everything the team did improved the car which, he noted, was not necessarily true of better resourced opposition. He emphasises, however, that he needs to be pretty sure something is going to work before makes it.
It's down to lack of resource versus the big boys and Ascanelli has a wry smile on his face when asked about the 'Barcelona update,' after which the team scored points in four successive races.
"I wouldn't necessarily call it development," he says, "we simply couldn't make the gearbox (which allowed a pull rod rear end) in time to start the season!
"Then we had a few goes at DRS, which only started working properly in Spa. We were working on F-duct in 2010 when we should have been thinking about DRS. At the first test we had a fixed rear wing and then at the second test we had a fixed wing with an adjustable flap, which is not a DRS."
And then there was 2011's most powerful tool - a blown exhaust.
"It's not something we had in the tunnel," Ascanelli says. "We started with it in March and had to learn how to make it work. Ferrari gave us the possibility of hot blowing from Spa onwards but it wasn't just hot blowing, it was what to do with it."
The team certainly looked to be on top of that by Suzuka, when it ran a Red Bull-type system and looked very quick, even if the reliability was an issue at first. By India, however, they had both cars through into Q3.
Toro Rosso clearly benefited from recruitment in the aero department but soon found that they were generating more than the drawing office could cope with.
"My designers are doing an excellent job," Ascanelli says, "but we're not Williams -- we haven't a legacy of nine championships. We've got young kids who are bright and keen but they need experience."
It was interesting that after a season in which Alguersuari scored 26 points and Buemi, 15, both drivers lost their seats to Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne for 2012.
At the end of 2010 Ascanelli admitted that he would perhaps have liked to see the Spaniard and the Swiss take a risk or two more, although in 2011 he again conceded that their attentive, conservative attitude reaped a lot of points.
"At Monza (where Alguersuari and Buemi were seventh and 10th respectively) there was carnage at the first corner and our two guys stayed out of trouble. It's hard to make a jump if you're conservative but there's a value too...
"I believe they were treasuring the opportunity," Ascanelli added, somewhat ironically, a couple of months before that opportunity disappeared.
Interestingly enough, his observations about Ricciardo from the Friday practice sessions the Australian took part in for Toro Rosso before heading off to race at HRT, reflected a similarly cautious approach.
"He was always within a tenth of his team mate but every weekend he did he was lucky because we had a second set of tyres for development and he could get into the groove," Ascanelli points out.
"He never put a wheel off the circuit, so he had margin, which was a good sign and I rate his feedback, but frankly I think he could have done more. I think he had bullets in his belt and simply didn't shoot them. He was content with what he achieved, which is wise, but..."
That approach is understandable given the lack of testing in present day F1 but the message seems to be that the team and the Red Bull hierarchy want to be impressed and perhaps it doesn't matter too much of they have to retrieve a pile of bits once in a while.
That said, both drivers often raced impressively, Alguersuari especially, after relatively poor qualifying performances that Ascanelli partly attributes to less trick mapping to play with, meaning that the team could not produce sudden performance.
The message from within seems to be that the drivers were reliable and competent but perhaps nothing special. It will be interesting to observe the dynamic with Ricciardo and Vergne in the 2012 race seats.