Toro Rosso’s James Key: Experienced drivers ‘crucial’ for fifth this season


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James Key believes the experienced driver line-up at Scuderia Toro Rosso for the 2017 Formula 1 season is crucial for them in their attempts to finish fifth in the Constructors’ Championship.

Toro Rosso have targeted a top-five result in the Constructors’ Standings for the past couple of seasons, but they have yet to finish higher than sixth. For the past three seasons, they have finished in seventh even though they have produced competitive cars, the Renault power unit during the 2014 and 2015 season has hampered their performance before switching to a year-old Ferrari engine last year.

Along with power unit issues, they have also had to deal with new drivers appearing on the scene at the Faenza-based outfit, as both Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr signed with Toro Rosso in 2015. This change in the driver line-up meant there were some rookie mistakes, which took away a little bit of performance potential.

“When Max and Carlos came onto the scene in 2015 they were both clearly great young drivers,” said Key.

It was a very positive story for us and for the sport in general, really. They did such a good job in their first year but they were still learning, they still had to go through the process of refining what they were doing to get the tires to work in all circumstances.

“There were the inevitable rookie mistakes; they were going to learn tracks they had never been to before, and that always takes away a little bit of performance potential compared to teams that don’t have to go through that – they can just concentrate on the job in hand every race weekend. So we had a little bit of that to deal with in 2015.”

For 2017, Toro Rosso will return to using Renault power units, so there are high hopes of improvement for the team, as well as fielding a more experienced line-up as Daniil Kvyat will enter his fourth season of F1 and Sainz his third. Last year was a difficult season for Kvyat after being demoted from Red Bull Racing, when he failed to perform strongly as well as with incidents with Sebastian Vettel.

Key, technical director for Toro Rosso believes Kvyat will be back to his best this season and he is still rated very highly by the team, and when asked if this experience could be a bonus for the team as they chase fifth, Key said. “I think it is.

“In 2016 we swapped drivers and Danny needed a little bit of time to reset himself,” added Key.

“I think by the end of the season he had definitely done that and we rate him very highly. Despite the fact that he had a tricky mid-season, we do rate him very highly, I think he will be absolutely back to his best this year because he’s had time to step back and move on from some of the things that affected him last year.

“Carlos we know has got great potential too and wants to do well. It’s an important year for them of course, they will need to show that they’re still capable of being competitive in a driver market that is quite competitive now for younger guys and give themselves opportunities later on as well.”

With the experience that both drivers have heading into this season, Key believes this is vital in allowing them to go and develop their 2017 car.

“For us we’re happy with having a known driver pair,” Key said. “We’re happy having guys we know.

“Importantly it’s the most experienced driver line-up I think the team will have had. They will go into the season allowing us to go and develop our 2017 car with their known and understood feedback, so that will be good.”