While it’s unlikely that Red Bull’s designated ‘B’ team will ever match their incredible feats of 2008 -when a young starlet by the name of Sebastian Vettel won at a rain-drenched Monza and the junior team outscored the ‘A’ squad in the Constructors’ Championship – last season showed that Toro Rosso can still be a strong entity in their own right.
Although the inevitable departure of Vettel to Red Bull Racing in 2009 gave way to two seasons of relative underachievement for Italy’s ‘other’ team, their efforts in 2011 proved altogether more encouraging as a tidy STR6 design and some clever developments through the season saw Toro Rosso challenge consistently for points in the second half of the year.
In truth, it’s unlikely that Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz originally envisaged Toro Rosso being anything more than a breeding ground for the company’s young driving talents when the Austrian billionaire bought the perennial back-of-the-grid Minardi team for the 2006 season to double his quota of F1 properties.
Initially the Faenza squad benefitted from being able to run a modified version of the senior Red Bull team’s car but from 2010 that loophole in the regulations was closed and Toro Rosso had to become a constructor in their own right – and therefore design their own cars.
With the build-up of improved technical capabilities and personnel unsurprisingly taking some time to bear fruit, last season’s performance showed that Toro Rosso’s technical and design operation, led by the experienced Giorgio Ascanelli, can hold their own in the midfield and take on some more illustrious F1 names.
Nonetheless, the decision to ditch the still improving pair of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari for the even less experienced but still highly promising duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, suggests that Toro Rosso are principally about driver development in the wider Red Bull F1 family.
What’s also apparent, however, is that the team are capable of being far more than just that. Having come so close to seventh place in the Constructors’ Championship in end last season, continuing to hold their own in the midfield, while keeping a watchful eye on the progress of Caterham behind, in particular, has to be the target for 2012.