Scuderia Toro Rosso had a nightmare year in 2012, with drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne failing to live up to the hype which touted both as possible replacements for Mark Webber. After a disappointing showing in winter testing, both drivers will be looking over their shoulder as many drivers vie for their seats, and Antonio Felix da Costa appears to be the man in pole position should the team decided to make a change.
Unlike Toro Rosso, da Costa had a sensational 2012 season in GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 as the Portuguese driver displayed his enormous talent. With Carlin, he finished third in GP3, and he ended up fourth in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship despite missing five of the seventeen races. da Costa will try to do even better in the series this season after he secured a full-time seat with Arden Caterham, whose links to F1 could be incredibly important. At the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi last year, da Costa drove for Red Bull, finishing second on day one and quickest on day two by over half a second. With Red Bull backing though, he appears to be the next driver in line to come from the family that has helped Sebastian Vettel develop into a three-time champion.
It is unlikely that Toro Rosso would opt to bring in da Costa mid-way through the season, as winter testing would give him the chance to get used to the car and prepare properly, as the likes of Bottas and Gutierrez have found this year. Yet if Vergne and Ricciardo have a particularly poor season, da Costa could be drafted in towards the end of 2013 where the risk is reduced (as there is less of the season to g0). This could prove to be a poor move for da Costa though: Nico Hulkenberg rejected Ferrari’s advances in 2009 as he did not want to be judged on half a season in a substandard car.
The way in which da Costa has been openly linked with Toro Rosso will hopefully give Ricciardo and Vergne the kickstart they require to perform in 2013. They started testing strongly, but both drivers finished behind Caterham and Marussia in Barcelona. To have their future questioned before the season has even begun will concern the Toro Rosso pairing, so they must answer their critics on the track this year.