The little team from Italy certainly did well in 2008, beating the parent squad and taking a pole position and win along the way. Sebastian Vettel showed he had talent and Sebastien Bourdais had some strong runs in the second car, at times keeping pace with his whipper-snapper team mate. 2008 will almost certainly be difficult to repeat, but that doesn’t mean Scuderia Toro Rosso cannot do well and continue to impress.
Scuderia Toro Rosso proved that despite not having the budget of Ferrari or McLaren, you can win if you’re clever enough. And even if you discount that magical day at a saturated Monza, the season was still one of great success and triumph. To equal Red Bull on points is more than be expected, to exceed was incredible.
Already though, STR have attempted to quell expectation and they have repeatedly said that a repeat performance of 2008 is unlikely to happen. They have continued with the Ferrari engine, and although STR’s unit may be a little behind than the factory team’s version, it is still a handy pocket-rocket. The chassis is derived from the Adrian Newey penned RB5, although it should be noted that modifications are required to fit the different engine and associated components.
During the winter, the team racked up many miles with the old car, and as a result the team often found themselves at the top of the timing sheets. With the new car though, testing appears to have been a little more arduous, but again, it is expected. One area that perhaps could have saved the team some heartache was the seemingly never-ending issue of drivers.
From early on in the off-season it was clear that Sebastien Buemi would be promoted from the role of test driver to full time STR pilot. The Swiss driver spent 2008 trialling different parts on the car as well as driving in various promotional roadshows around the world. Buemi’s knowledge of the Red Bull family is strong, as is his knowledge of the car. Although the STR4 will undoubtedly handle very differently to the RB4 he tested last year, Sebastien will still feel a sense of familiarity between the chassis.
Aside from Buemi though, Scuderia Toro Rosso seemed to be in a dilemma regarding the driver of the second car. Takuma Sato looked good for the role for quite a while, the Japanese driver having performed surprisingly well in testing. However, when it came down to it, the squad opted for some consistency and chose to retain Sebastien Bourdais. While Sato really did look like a driver reborn, Bourdais does deserve another chance to prove himself in Formula One. The French driver’s performances in 2008 were perhaps a little up and down, but ultimately the four-times Champ Car champion did show he had pace and skill when everything came together.
Bourdais’s biggest issue appeared to be qualifying, which lead him to be among the back markers at the start of the races, and therefore in the throes of any accident caused by the Force Indias, Super Aguris and Hondas all vying for the same bit of tarmac. As the season progressed though, Bourdais started to get to grips with everything and while four points isn’t much to write home about, it is my belief that 2009 will be better; Bourdais being able to hit the ground running this time.
The only other issue that may cloud the team, although perhaps not in their performances, is the decision from Dietrich Mateschitz to sell. The news has been known for a while, and the Red Bull magnate is making a sound business decision, even if it isn’t popular with the fans. Currently, STR receive hand-me-down chassis from Red Bull, but if customer cars are outlawed from 2010 onwards, the financial costs of the squad won’t be worth the extra marketing Red Bull gain. Mateschitz has questioned his decision to sell, and it may still not happen. But it will undoubtedly be a worry for those who have worked tirelessly at Faenza since the days of Minardi.
I can’t see anyone wanting to buy STR unless they get their chassis facilities up and running this year. And, if that happens, they will no longer have the services of Adrian Newey. It may be back to Minardi days after all.