2016 Season Review: Scuderia Toro Rosso – Power deficit hinders impressive year


Toro Rosso finished seventh in Constructors' Championship in 2016 - Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

#26 – Daniil Kvyat – Russia – 17 Starts (4 for Red Bull Racing), 4 points (21 for Red Bull), Best Finish: 9th (Singapore), Championship Position: 14th.

#33 – Max Verstappen – Netherlands – 4 Starts (17 for Red Bull), 13 Points (191 for Toro Rosso), Best Finish: 6th (Bahrain), Championship Position: 5th

#55 – Carlos Sainz Jr – Spain – 21 Starts, 46 Points, Best Finish: 6th (Spain, United States, Brazil), Championship Position: 12th.


For large parts of the 2016 Formula 1 season, the Scuderia Toro Rosso squad were largely hindered by their 2015 Ferrari power unit, which was forced on them by Red Bull’s falling out with Renault, but despite losing their young gem of a racer early in the season, the team were still able to put in some strong performances.

The best result of the year may have been sixth, but the team were still able to clinch seventh in the championship standings, scoring sixty-three points, with a young Spaniard shining brightly as he continued to impress the world with his driving ability.

The team started the year with an unchanged line-up of Dutch sensation Max Verstappen and Spanish ace Carlos Sainz Jr, but ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix the team were reunited with Russian Daniil Kvyat, who came in as he lost his drive with parent team Red Bull Racing to Verstappen.

Max Verstappen started the year with Toro Rosso before switching to Red Bull – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

The year begin with a great qualifying performance and double points finish in the Australian Grand Prix, with Sainz taking ninth having started seventh and getting the better of Verstappen in tenth, who fell from his own lofty starting position of fifth due to a slow pit stop. Both drivers were able to make their way passed Jolyon Palmer in the closing laps to ensure their positions.

Verstappen and Sainz started tenth and eleventh in round two in Bahrain, and the Dutchman drove a strong race to take a well-earned sixth at the chequered flag, although the Spaniard found his race ended early when he retired his STR11 due to damage caused in an earlier incident with Sergio Perez.

Both drivers again started inside the top ten for the Chinese Grand Prix, with Sainz getting the better of Verstappen, but the positions were reversed on race day, with Verstappen eighth and Sainz ninth, both having found a way passed Valtteri Bottas during the final three laps.

Only Verstappen made it into the top ten shootout for the Russian Grand Prix, qualifying in ninth, with Sainz just missing out in eleventh, but the Dutchman’s final race with the Faenza-based outfit ended early with a power unit issue on lap thirty-three. Sainz was handed a ten-second time penalty for forcing Palmer off track on lap twenty-three, but the Spaniard lost out on a points finish in the closing laps when Jenson Button caught and passed him, with the penalty then relegating him to twelfth behind Daniel Ricciardo in the final result.

Carlos Sainz Jr secured sixth place in the Spanish Grand Prix – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Following the race at Sochi, news broke out that Kvyat had been released from his Red Bull duties following a difficult home Grand Prix that saw him twice hit Sebastian Vettel on the opening lap, with Verstappen moving to the parent team. Kvyat found himself back with the team that gave him his Formula 1 break in 2014, partnering Sainz once more after previous spells as team-mates in various single seater categories including the GP3 Series in 2013.

Sainz could have let the disappointment of being overlooked for the promotion himself get to him, but the Spanish Grand Prix showed just why he is highly though of, not just within the Red Bull stable but in Formula 1 as a whole. Despite the attention being focused on Verstappen’s debut win with Red Bull, Sainz started eighth on the grid and took a career best sixth on race day, while Kvyat returned to the team with a points scoring finish of his own in tenth, although this would be one of the rare occasions that he broke into the top ten as his confidence took a major hit due to his demotion.

Kvyat’s Monaco Grand Prix was a disaster right from the start, with a mechanical issue causing him to coast back to the pits as the rest of the drivers followed the safety car on lap two, with the Russian rejoining a lap down on the pack. Unfortunately it would not get much better when he retired on lap eighteen as an opportunistic move to un-lap himself on Kevin Magnussen ended up with him crashing into the Dane’s Renault Sport Formula 1 Team RS16.

Sainz started seventh on the grid, continuing his form from Spain, and finished eighth on the road on Sunday despite the conditions around the streets of Monte Carlo proving tricky, at least in the early stages due to pre-race rain.

Kvyat got the better of Sainz in qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix as the Spaniard started the weekend with an unscheduled gearbox change and a subsequent grid penalty, but it was a different story on Sunday, when Sainz continued his strong run to take two more points for ninth as Kvyat was unable to better twelfth.

Daniil Kvyat only scored points on three occasions after returning to the team – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Kvyat appeared to be on form during Formula 1’s first visit to Azerbaijan for the European Grand Prix, qualifying an excellent seventh while Sainz could only muster thirteenth, but unfortunately for the Russian he was the first retiree as he suffered a suspension failure after just the six laps, while Sainz retired with a similar problem on lap thirty-two.

Neither Toro Rosso driver performed well in qualifying ahead of the Red Bull Ring, with Sainz fifteenth and Kvyat twentieth, with the Russian then starting the race from the pit lane due to requiring a new safety cell following a crash during the session when his suspension broke after running wide across the kerbs at turn seven. He was unable to complete more than two laps due to a mechanical issue to end a horror weekend, while Sainz once again showed his mettle to climb to eighth for another points finish.

Sainz started the British Grand Prix from the fourth row of the grid with Kvyat well down the field once more, but both drivers were able to bring their cars home in the points, the Spaniard eighth and the Russian tenth, with both having run inside the top ten for most of the afternoon. It could have been an even better result for Sainz had he not been one of a number of drivers to spin on a drying track when he hit a wet patch at turn one.

Another eighth place finish followed at the Hungaroring for Sainz having started up in sixth position around a track that seemed to suit his STR11, although it was a harder afternoon for Kvyat who finished down in sixteenth, losing four places from where he started. However the Hockenheimring, the final race before the summer break, was less of a success, both drivers starting outside the top ten and finishing down in fourteenth and fifteenth, with the Spaniard ahead.

Carlos Sainz Jr has been linked to both Mercedes and Renault seats this year – Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The first couple of races after the summer break saw struggles for Toro Rosso, with neither Spa-Francorchamps or the Autodromo Nazionale Monza playing to the teams strengths. Fifteenth and nineteenth on the grid in Belgium showed the first signs of the weaknesses, but Sainz’s race was over after suffering a puncture at high speed down the Kemmel Straight on lap two that caused him to pull off the track. Kvyat did manage to see the chequered flag, but was down in fourteenth, ahead only of Palmer, Esteban Ocon and Felipe Nasr.

If anything, qualifying in Italy was even worse, with Sainz and Kvyat starting fifteenth and sixteenth on the grid respectively, with the Spaniard finishing in the same position on Sunday. Kvyat was unable to see the chequered flag this time around due to a battery problem, but the issues for the team were far more serious but completely out of their hands, with their undeveloped 2015 Ferrari engine being by far the weakest engine on the grid, which became more noticeable at power hungry circuits such as Spa and Monza.

Whereas Spa and Monza were unsuited to the STR11, the Singapore Grand Prix showed just how good the chassis was in 2016, with Sainz sixth on the grid and Kvyat seventh, and although Sainz was unable to convert that into a points finish, it was the Russian who showed a somewhat return to form as he put in a superb drive to ninth, including a fantastic defensive display early on against Verstappen, although the Dutchman ultimately got the better of him in the closing stages on fresher tyres.

The Malaysian Grand Prix saw more qualifying struggles, with Kvyat outperforming Sainz but down in fifteenth and sixteenth on the grid, and neither were able to score points on the Sunday, although the Spaniard was just over three seconds away from the top ten, while it was a similar story in the Japanese Grand Prix, with Kvyat thirteenth and Sainz seventeenth at the chequered flag.

It was a great turnaround in the United States Grand Prix, with Sainz equalling his career best finish from the Spanish Grand Prix, although he did lose fifth in the closing stages to fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who made use of better tyres in the final stint. Kvyat could not match his team-mate, finishing twelfth on the road (which became eleventh when Magnussen was handed a time penalty) after an early penalty for spinning Perez around on the opening lap left him with too much work to do in the final stages.

Sainz qualified inside the top ten in Mexico City but finished fifteenth on the road, but dropped a place due to a penalty for pushing Alonso off track on the opening lap of the race. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, the penalty came after he had made his one and only pit stop, while Kvyat also took a time penalty after being adjudged to have passed Romain Grosjean whilst off track at turn twelve as he was classified eighteenth.

Daniil Kvyat had a strong outing in Singapore – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Sainz’s stunning drive in the Brazilian Grand Prix, held in difficult wet conditions throughout and containing not one but two red flags, saw his stock rise more, with a third sixth place finish of the year. He was running fourth but found it impossible to keep the faster running Verstappen and Vettel behind him in the closing stages, but he was able to keep Hülkenberg behind him until the chequered flag. Kvyat finished thirteenth but was lucky to see the chequered flag at all after being hit by Palmer early in the race as the Briton did not see the Russian through the spray down the start/finish straight.

It was a disappointing conclusion to the season in Abu Dhabi, when both Sainz and Kvyat retired from the race, the former suffering gearbox issues that forced him out when Palmer collided with the Spaniard at turn seventeen, while the latter had already departed the race with gearbox issues of his own.

It perhaps was a cause of what might have been for Toro Rosso in 2016, especially if they could have had an engine package to match that of their rivals. The performances at the power-hungry circuits showed their weaknesses, but their was nothing wrong with the aerodynamic performance of the STR11.

Sainz showed again and again why he is so highly thought of within the Formula 1 circus, and why he was linked to both the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team and to the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team in the off-season, only to decide along with Red Bull boss Christian Horner that Toro Rosso would be his best option for 2017.

For Kvyat, it was a year to forget, with the Russian finding it hard to take his demotion from Red Bull after just four rounds of the season, but performances like we saw in Singapore will go a long way in rebuilding his confidence, as will the decision to retain his services into 2017 despite Pierre Gasly looking set to take the drive when the results were not forthcoming.

With a return to Renault power in 2017, hopes are high that the team can be a more competitive outfit next season, and with Sainz on board and a confident Kvyat, the team should be looking for an even better season than they achieved this year. To keep hold of Sainz into 2018, they had better!