Exclusive Q&A: Franz Tost on retirement, Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s succession plan

Thomas Maher

After 18 years heading up Red Bull’s junior team, Franz Tost will leave F1 at the conclusion of 2023 for retirement. He spoke to PlanetF1.com for an exclusive interview during the British Grand Prix weekend.

Franz Tost recently announced his upcoming retirement from Formula 1, with the Austrian handing over the reins of the AlphaTauri squad to Peter Bayer and Laurent Mekies for what will be a new era for the Red Bull junior team.

Tost is F1’s second-longest serving team boss, bested only by Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner, but that run comes to an end at this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Sitting down for an interview with PlanetF1.com on the eve of the British Grand Prix, Tost reflected on the changes he’s overseen in the 18 years he’s been at the helm of an F1 team.

Q&A with Franz Tost:

PF1: Franz, you’re just a few months away from stepping out of the Formula 1 paddock for the last time as a team boss. Has the reality of that set in for you just yet?

FT: “The reality is that at the end of the season, I will stop because I’m then nearly 68 years old. It’s time to hand it over.

“I’m really happy that we found, with Peter Bayer and Laurent Mekies, two very experienced Formula 1 people. I’m convinced that they will do a very good job, a much better job than me.

“Then we’ll see, the last 18 years, they were quite interesting for me, I came to Faenza on the eighth of November 2005 and then, together with fantastic people which were working over there, we built up the team.

“I must say that, in Faenza in those days at Toro Rosso, were very enthusiastic. We had a wonderful time and the number of people increased. We started with, I think, 85 people.

“Then, after two years, we had 125 people already, and everything worked well. The philosophy was quite clear from Dietrich Mateschitz. We used the synergies with Red Bull Technology, because he said he did not want to build up a second research and development department – that’s not necessary.

“And, secondly, to educate young drivers. This worked fantastically. We got everything from Red Bull Technology. It worked so well that in 2008, we won in Monza with Sebastian Vettel, the home Grand Prix, which, of course, was a very emotional moment there.

“But our opponents said ‘that stops now, they can’t continue like this’. Then the FIA and the teams changed the regulation, they come up with the listed parts, which meant that we had to design and build in-house the monocoque, front wing, rear wing, bodywork, diffuser, the floor…

“It was then a difficult period over the next two or three years, because we had to build up the infrastructure. We had to build up the aero department, we had to build up the design office, purchasing department, and of course, the production because we didn’t have this. This was challenging but very, very interesting. It was a good time. There was the name change in 2020 from Toro Rosso to AlphaTauri because Mateschitz founded a new company with AlphaTauri, a fashion company.

“Then we won a second race with Pierre Gasly once more in Monza which was also very emotional. Unfortunately, this year, the performance is not as good as expected, but the season is not finished yet, and I hope that we can catch up and that the team will come back, come back to the midfield of the Constructors’ Championship where we should be.”

PF1: Over those 18 years, what were the moments of pride for you? What’s the moment that you point to and say ‘that was brilliant’?

FT: “There was not one moment. It was everything together. But, of course, what was very special was when Red Bull won the first World Championship with Sebastian Vettel. Mateschitz was there as well and it was quite emotional because he called me and, when we had a meeting to become the new team principal [in 2005], he had said ‘We must win races and the World Championship’.

“Then this [win] became reality and this was fantastic. But then also, with the team itself, of course, the wins at Monza were very special because it’s an Italian team, and winning the Italian Grand Prix was quite emotional.”

PF1: Was it a difficult decision for you to make to decide to step aside and away from the sport?

FT: “No, this was not a difficult decision because it was clear. When I was young, when I worked together with some older people, I said to myself ‘If I am in a leading position, I don’t want to glue on a seat. I will stop when it’s time because young people have to get, or younger people have to get, the possibility to take over, and the young have new ideas, and that’s good.

“It was clear for me that I would not be at the pit wall anymore at 70 years [old], this was clear 20 years ago, or 18 years ago, because I’m not this kind of person.

“I want the team to make progress so that the team will become successful. I think that, with Peter and Laurent, this will happen.”

PF1: You’ve been a vocal proponent for the expanding F1 calendar. Given that you’re expected to be in attendance at pretty much every race, was the ever-growing number of races a factor in your decision?

FT: “No, no, the decision to leave has nothing to do with the number of races or being at the pit wall. The decision to leave is that I am convinced, once you are coming close to your 70s, that you can’t be any more fresh in your mind, you can’t be open anymore for changes, for new strategies for the team and F1.

“It’s a very, very fast business, you must be switched on all the time. Therefore, I think younger people that are naturally more switched on than older people. Once you have to say it, that’s it. Goodbye.”

PF1: Was the fact that your team was always somewhat under the thumb of Red Bull Racing and your decision-making influenced by that ever a frustration for you? Would you have preferred more freedom?

FT: “No, no. This was never a frustration because this is what Mateschitz expected from myself there. He said, ‘Look, please educate these young drivers’. It’s the other way around here. I was really satisfied when the driver stepped up to Red Bull Racing and when they were successful, yeah.

“I was really happy when Vettel won the first championship with Red Bull because this driver went through the team of Toro Rosso. I’m also happy when Max wins races and the championship because he also started at Toro Rosso. Or if Carlos Sainz is winning at Ferrari or Pierre Gasly at Alpine, because this shows that the team has done a good job.”

PF1: Were you ever tempted to move to another team, or was there ever an offer that you found tough to pass up?

FT: “No, no, no, I got many offers from other teams. But first of all, loyalty is an important factor in my life philosophy.

“Secondly, I was always involved in important projects regarding our team, whether that was a new building or it was anything else. I didn’t want to go away. And it was always a very interesting time. It was never boring, because there was always a lot of work to do and therefore I didn’t want to miss one minute of this time.”

PF1: Obviously, there were the World Champion graduates from Toro Rosso – Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen. Who else were the standout talents for you?

FT: “I must say many drivers were really very, very good. Apart from Sebastian and Max, also Carlos Sainz did a fantastic job. Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo and, also now, Yuki Tsunoda.

“Jean-Eric Vergne, too, you know he won the Formula E championship which shows he is very skilled. Sebastien Buemi won the Le Mans 24 Hours a couple of times. There were really many drivers, not only successful in F1 but in other categories. I’m happy if I meet with them, talk a little bit with them, and I’m satisfied if they win in any other category.”

PlanetF1.com recommends

F1 driver contracts: What is the current contract status of every driver on the 2023 grid?

F1 points all-time rankings: Where do Hamilton, Verstappen and Alonso feature?

PF1: F1 has changed so much over the last couple of years, exploding into the mainstream. It’s always been popular, of course, but it was possible to be relatively anonymous as an F1 team boss. Commercial considerations aside, did you prefer F1 when it was less mainstream or do you enjoy the environment that allows for a ‘rockstar Franz’?

FT: “Rock star Franz does not exist! But you have to go with time. Formula 1 was always popular.

“I remember back when I went to my first Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monza [in the 1990s]. I went there and, on the street, I saw the Tyrrell trucks and I just followed them with my car because I didn’t know where to go.

“Then I was in the pit area all over the weekend, and I remember during the qualifying, they wanted to throw me out. Then I went to the Lotus box, and the police went away because they thought I was with Lotus.

“But then the Lotus mechanics came up, upset with me, so I went to the next box, and so on.

“It was unbelievable I was in the middle of there. At the race, I wanted to see the cars on the track, not in the pits. I was out there and I watched at the start, then I ran to the Curva Grande.

“Then I ran to Lesmo 1 and 2, to Ascari, to the Parabolica and then, at the end of the race, came back to the start-finish line. This was new for me, the Italian fans, they cut up the fence and we went in there.

“I was standing at the victory ceremony, but the police were very upset with us. They came with the horses. There were so many people, they didn’t have a chance! This was my first Grand Prix at Monza, it was interesting.

“But this is not possible nowadays anymore. Yeah. Formula 1 has changed. But I want to say, also in those times, the grandstands were full. Monza was full. Now, as well, grandstands are full.

“But of course, everything is more commercial. But this is 25 years ago, so it was a different time. Of course, we have to go with the times now. I liked it in those days, but I also like it now when it’s different.

“It’s good that Formula 1 is, from the commercial side, so interesting for all the big global players in the world. Therefore we have this high-level, therefore we have this high income, therefore we have the interest. That’s good, it’s good for the sport.”

PF1: What’s next for Franz Tost? Obviously, there’s the succession plan to hand over to Peter Bayer and Laurent Mekies but, after that? Will you just be disappearing into the mountains and disappearing entirely?

FT: “A totally quiet retirement. [Disappearing], I don’t know but, for sure, it’s quiet. For sure. No theatre, nothing.

PF1: You wouldn’t be tempted by a role like Helmut Marko’s then, as a retirement position?

FT: “No! No…”

Read Next: Ticking time bomb Nyck de Vries the casualty in Daniel Ricciardo’s fairytale comeback