Formula 1 2017 team preview: Scuderia Toro Rosso

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Scuderia Toro Rosso continued to battle away in Formula 1’s midfield last year and offered glimpses of a team that could move up the pecking order – but once again ailed to P7 in the standings.

Carlos Sainz Jr. remains one of F1’s brightest young talents, while Daniil Kvyat managed to recover from his Red Bull demotion and mid-season plight to bounce back later in the year.

With a young, dynamic driver pairing and a car with noted similarities to the offering from defending champion team Mercedes, can Toro Rosso move up the field this year?

DRIVERS

26. Daniil Kvyat (Russia)
55. Carlos Sainz Jr. (Spain)

CAR

Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12

ENGINE

Renault R.E.17 (may be rebadged)

TEAM CHIEFS

Franz Tost (team principal)
James Key (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 26: Scuderia Toro Rosso Team Principal Franz Tost, Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Scuderia Toro Rosso, Carlos Sainz of Spain and Scuderia Toro Rosso and James Key, Technical Director of Scuderia Toro Rosso unveil the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 in the pitlane during previews to F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 26, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Despite winding up seventh in the constructors’ championship and missing out on the elusive top-five dream, Toro Rosso had a pretty decent 2016 by most accounts. Following the decision to switch to year-old Ferrari power units, (wrongly) believing them to be better than current-year Renault offerings, to only score four less points than 2015 was good going. Carlos Sainz Jr. was a shining star yet again, and was unlucky not to hit the podium. Daniil Kvyat bounced back after his mid-season demotion and looked more collected come the end of the year, back to his former self.

What went wrong in 2016: Yet again, Toro Rosso failed to break into the upper end of the grid. The team seems to head into every year targeting a top five finish, and always falls short. It was the third year in a row the team had finished seventh, despite having a solid design team and two quick, young drivers. It was a good effort from what is a B-team, yet still some way off what is really possible.

What’s changed for 2017: The most noticeable change for Toro Rosso is the livery. Gone are the traditional dark blue and burgundy colors that made it a challenge at times to tell the cars apart from the Red Bulls. Instead, a slick blue, silver and red livery has been introduced, which has proven to be a real hit. Toro Rosso has kept a hold of technical guru James Key, who noted that his STR12 design was similar to that of Mercedes’ W08 car, while Sainz and Kvyat return once again.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: The same thing the team looked to accomplish last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. And the year befo- you get the idea. Yes, a top-five finish will be the target this season. The return of on-year power units from Renault means that Toro Rosso will no longer fall far behind in the later stages of the season, so this should give Sainz and Kvyat more of a chance to fight at the front. For Sainz, the battle will be to impress the top teams so he can get a bigger seat; for Kvyat, his mind will probably be on survival once again with Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 08: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 on track during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 8, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: If the mantra of a pretty car being a fast car is true, then Toro Rosso should sweep to both titles this year. Somehow, I think that won’t be the case. Toro Rosso can definitely get in the mix in the midfield, perhaps even with the likes of Force India and Williams. The STR12 looks good, and the comparison to Mercedes of massive interest to the paddock. With the right car, Sainz has a chance to make his name this year much as Sebastian Vettel did with Toro Rosso in 2008 – and maybe Kvyat can remind the world that he has the makings of a very competent grand prix racer.

Tony DiZinno: The livery’s flashy, the lineup’s solid, and the James Key-penned car looks sorted for most everyone’s favorite B-team in Scuderia Toro Rosso. With the livery shift and the retention of the ridiculously good Carlos Sainz Jr. along with the experience of Daniil Kvyat, there’s a festive flair around Toro Rosso that they’re finally poised to emerge from Red Bull’s shadow. I could see an outside shot of a podium happening at least once, with a handful of top-fives and consistent top-seven or eighth-place finishes helping propel the team into the top six, potentially top five, on the grid.

Kyle Lavigne: Scuderia Toro Rosso appear to have a solid chassis, though reliability with Renault’s power unit is a big question mark. Still, one the big storylines with this team is its driver lienup, as Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat retain their seats, but both could be on thin ice. Toro Rosso has a history of moving on from young drivers who are underperforming. While Sainz Jr. did well to finish 12th in the 2016 driver’s championship, buoyed by two sixth-place finishes in the final four races, he would do well to consistently challenge to be in Q3 of qualifying along with being a regular points scorer. For Kvyat, he’ll need to rebound from a terrible 2016 season that saw him demoted from the Red Bull ‘A team’ to its ‘B team’ five races in. If he struggles in the same he way he did in the second half of 2016, Kvyat’s days as a Formula 1 driver could be numbered.

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”