Four races into the 2010, and just as the European leg of the F1 season is about to get underway, the Toro Rosso drivers have been speaking about their season so far, and their prospects for the next few races.
This weekend is the Spanish Grand Prix, home race for Jaime Alguersuari, who is understandably looking forward to Barcelona. “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.”
The Spanish fans will be out in force at the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend, although most will be there to cheer on local favourite Fernando Alonso. Alguersuari says that, despite increased support, he will prepare for this race in the same way as any other. “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.”
Alguersuari scored his first F1 points in Malaysia, a feat he was not expecting quite so early in his career. The Spaniard insists he is still on a learning curve at the moment, and hopes to be more competitive on tracks that he is more familiar with. “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.”
He has had some good on-track duels this season. In particular, Alguersuari managed to frustrate seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher as he held him at bay for many laps in Australia. “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.”
Alguersuari has already driven the current Toro Rosso around Barcelona during pre-season testing at the end of February and, just like the other drivers, knows the track well. “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.”
Unlike Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, the more experienced driver, is yet to score a point for Toro Rosso this season. “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.”
Buemi does think that there is more performance in the STR5 and the team can improve on their current points tally of just two. “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.”
Since the Chinese Grand Prix, Buemi has been completing aerodynamics tests at Vairano, but the driver says that these developments will not be on the can in Spain. “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 analyse all the data thoroughly to ensure we move forward in the right direction.”
Speaking more generally, Buemi feels that he has improved now that he is in his second season. “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 [this year].
“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.”
Buemi even had some faint praise for his young, rookie teammate. “In the half season he (Alguersuari) 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.”
Franz Tost, the Toro Rosso team principal targeted a top eight finish in the Constructor’s Championship this season, the position the team are currently in. However, he is not entirely happy with performances in the first four races. “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. Analysing 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.”
New regulations outlawed ‘customer cars’ this season, and Toro Rosso could not inherit a car from their sister team Red Bull. Therefore, the STR5 is the first model the team have designed completely in-house. Tost thinks that the team have produced a decent car. “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.”
The team are using Ferrari engines this year, but haven’t been blighted with the reliability issues of the Ferrari team and BMW Sauber, who use the same engine. “It is possible that we have adopted a more cautious approach in the way we manage the engines,” says Tost. “This does not mean we can afford to be complacent as engine failures are always a possibility.”
When asked about his two drivers, Tost has praise for Jaime Alguersuari, who only made his F1 debut in Hungary last year. “[Jaime] 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 programme 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.”
“Sebastien [Buemi]’s performance this year has been much better than the results would indicate,” said Tost of his other driver. “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.”
Franz Tost also explained how the team are developing the STR5, and the updates they are bringing to Barcelona for this weekend’s race: “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.”
Photo credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Image