Driver shortlist for 2015 Toro Rosso seat confirmed

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Scuderia Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost has confirmed that four drivers are in the running for the second seat at the team in 2015.

17-year-old Max Verstappen is set to become the youngest ever driver to start a grand prix in 2015 when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso, and he was due to partner current driver Daniil Kvyat.

However, following Sebastian Vettel’s shock decision to quit Red Bull at the end of 2015, Kvyat was confirmed as his replacement last weekend, continuing the team’s policy of promoting young drivers from its B team.

This has left Toro Rosso considering its options for 2015 once again, and although Formula Renault 3.5 championship leader Carlos Sainz Jr. seems to be the obvious choice, Tost has said that there are other options being considered.

“There are also other drivers [besides Sainz],” Tost said. “We have Jean-Eric Vergne, which is an experienced driver, we have Carlos Sainz Jr which is currently leading the 3.5 litre Renault championship, then we have Pierre Gasly, we have [Alex] Lynn.

“Fortunately Red Bull has a lot of very fast, high skilled drivers in the driver pool and within the next weeks, Red Bull will decide who will get this seat.”

The inclusion of Jean-Eric Vergne may come as a surprise to many, given that he has enjoyed two years at the team already. Kvyat’s promotion appears to have given him something of a reprieve, but it still seems unlikely that he will be kept on given that Red Bull has passed over him twice now. Christian Horner, team principal at Red Bull Racing, has also suggested that Vergne is not a candidate for the seat.

Sainz’s case is perhaps the strongest, given his form in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship this season. He is set to win the title in Jerez later this month, and has also been linked with a seat at Caterham towards the end of 2014.

Unlike Sainz, Pierre Gasly does not stand much of a chance of securing the seat despite a very impressive debut season in the Formula Renault 3.5 series this year. The French youngster has enjoyed an impressive junior career, and although he is definitely a driver that should grace F1 in the next few years, it may be a bit too early for him in 2015.

Alex Lynn would be the ‘curveball’ choice for Red Bull. The British driver is on course to win the GP3 championship – just as Kvyat did in 2013 – and could be the man to deny Sainz his F1 debut. If he doesn’t get the nod, a move up the ladder to GP2 would be logical for next season.

It is clear why Red Bull’s junior programme is the envy of the entire paddock, given the wealth of options available, but we should know who is moving up to F1 in 2015 in the next few weeks.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.