SEPTEMBER 16, 2008

How Toro Rosso beat Red Bull Racing - and the implications of the victory

Scuderia Toro Rosso's victory at Monza was a popular one, but now that the spray is settling there are going to be some questions asked about how that victory was achieved - and whether it was something that is acceptable in F1 circles. The last victory by a customer car was in Spain in 1970 when Jackie Stewart drove a March, run by Ken Tyrrell, to victory at Jarama. Only a few months ago Red Bull paid Force India around $4m to stop an arbitration claim which aimed to stop the Italian team using chassis built by Red Bull Technology, which is supplying the same chassis to Red Bull Racing.

The fact that Toro Rosso beat Red Bull Racing will be seen by many as an embarrassment for the "factory" Red Bull team, particularly as that organisation decided at the end of 2006 to switch its Ferrari engine deal to Toro Rosso as it wanted to use Renault engines in 2007. That move was logical at the time but has now backfired as it is fairly clear that a large part of the Toro Rosso victory at Monza was down to engine power. Monza is a low downforce track where horsepower is important and Toro Rosso had more horsepower than Red Bull Racing. The set-up of the cars is also part of the equation and much credit for that must go to Giorgio Ascanelli and his engineers at Toro Rosso, but it must still be noted that Ascanelli has been there for quite a time and the improvement at Toro Rossi is relatively recent. It is rumoured that Toro Rosso has been getting the latest Ferrari development engines in recent months and that would help to explain how the team managed to beat the Ferrari factory team. Although there is an engine freeze going on, teams are able to improve their engines if they apply for modifications which they can justify as being for reliability or cost reasons. The FIA accepts or rejects such requests and only those rejected are circulated to the other teams to given them an idea of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Renault boss Flavio Briatore has made much of the fact that Renault has fallen behind the other teams by abiding by the rules, but in F1 that is no excuse. If the rules allow for improvement then there should have been improvement.

The Toro Rosso victory should make it easier for the team to find sponsorship for the future and, perhaps, a buyer for the 50% of the shares that Red Bull Dietrich Mateschitz has put up for sale. It was a bitter-sweet result for Red Bull Racing because it built the cars that won, but unfortunately did not actually win.

There are also questions about whether or not rival teams will look again at the question of arbitration. The rules about chassis supply were covered in the old Concorde Agreement, which ran out in December last year. There is supposed to be some kind of deal in place which allows teams to run customer cars this year, but only on the understanding that they would become constructors in 2010. However that agreement was designed when Toro Rosso was an also-ran, rather than a race-winning operation. All the teams will be gaining less money as a result of Vettel's victory and some could try to argue that the terms and conditions of the old Concorde Agreement are still valid until a new Concorde Agreement is in place. If they can win that argument then they can go to arbitration and in the long-term the arbitrators could rule against Toro Rosso. Given that Red Bull bought off Force India, it is fairly clear that they were not confident of winning an arbitration claim.

Hopefully it will not come to that as a surprise winner in F1 is a good thing and will do much for the popularity of the sport. Legal actions and political shenanigans do nothing to help.

The win may also have an effect on the arguments that Toro Rosso has been putting forward for the future. It wants to remain a customer in 2010 rather than being forced to invest in manufacturing. The victory in Monza will do little to help that cause, as it is likely to create more opposition to the idea from rival teams.