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Analysis: Can Toro Rosso outrace Red Bull in 2016?

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Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr have put in some good performances in 2015 and will be powered by Ferrari engines for the 2016 season.

Red Bull Racing Helmut Marko Toro Rosso 201
Drivers from both teams pictured with Red Bull motorsport boss Helmut Marko

Late last year came the news that Red Bull would continue to be powered by Renault through the 2016 season, while their junior team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, would be on Ferrari power instead.

Red Bull Racing have had more than their fair share of issues in 2015. From constant engine issues to very publicly played out spats with their manufacturers, the team saw it all and then some in the 2015 season.

Four races into the season, driver Daniel Ricciardo was already on to his third of four engines drivers are allocated during the season. At that race, the Bahrain Grand Prix, Ricciardo had pulled his car across the finish line as his engine billowed smoke.

The team had been hoping that new regulations, ones that permitted a 5-engine allocation instead of 4, would come through; these did not work to their favour, however, leading to the team taking on engine penalties during the course of the year. Monza saw Daniil Kvyat take 10 penalties for engine upgrades, while teammate Ricciardo took a staggering 25, further damaging their chances of points finishes.

Talented drivers

At the 2015 Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, the two young Toro Rosso drivers – both of whom made their Formula One debuts in the 2015 season – outqualified the Bulls, with Sainz and Verstappen finishing in 5th and 6th respectively, with Kvyat and Ricciardo in 8th and 10th.

Although the youngsters were unable to build on a strong qualifying session, the team had been delighted with results.

Both drivers did well in 2015, but it was Verstappen who was 2015’s standout star – and won the FIA’s debutant of the year award for his efforts.

He finished with 49 points, decent for a rookie especially considering he had 4 retirements in the year and every driver above him in the standings had significantly more experience.

He also had two 4th place finishes among his 10 points finishes last year, the first of them in Hungary, where the Red Bulls also performed exceptionally, scoring a double podium. His second came at the challenging CoTA or the Circuit of the Americas, already a difficult high-speed circuit, and one where Kvyat had an accident and Ricciardo would end in 10th.

Both teammates showed raw racing aggression – especially at the Singapore Grand Prix, where a defiant Verstappen disobeyed the orders of team chief Franz Tost to outrace his teammate.

Technical team and expertise

Toro Rosso’s technical team have repeatedly said the squad have seen significant aero improvements in the past few years, beginning from when Daniel Ricciardo drove for the team. Technical director James Key, who saw them through some of their best results, has since moved to Red Bull, whose own most successful engineer, Adrian Newey, is no longer as active with the side as he once was.

Newey had been responsible for the car that Sebastian Vettel drove to four consecutive championship victories from 2010 to 2013.

Red Bull have in fact done well in terms of aerodynamics, let down spectacularly and repeatedly by the unreliable Renault engines they have been using – the team did exceedingly well at the high-speed Hungaroring.

Considering the already fractious relationship and Renault’s attempt to de-emphasize the relationship with them given their works team re-entering the fray, things do not bode particularly well for the Christian Horner-led team.

Ferrari themselves may have been significantly outpaced by Mercedes this year, but that is most down to the absolutely superior power they have had for the past two years; the W05 and W06 are two of the most successful cars in the history of Formula One. Their power has been consistently high over the past two years, with their cars, designed by renowned F1 designer Paddy Lowe, very aerodynamically sound.

The W06, with 67% race wins, is Formula One’s most successful car of all time, based on statistics alone. It is somewhat like this era’s MP4/4 – the car Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost completely dominated the sport with in their heyday with McLaren.

For their part, Ferrari have benefited over the past few years from the skills of designer Nicholas Tombazis, who was instrumental in the design of their 2007 car  – the car that won them that year’s championship with Kimi Raikkonen.

Tombazis has since shifted allegiances; he begins with Manor in the 2016 season, who will this year be powered by Mercedes. Considering Tombazis has spent a number of years with Ferrari engines – since before the V6 era, it will be interesting to see what develops.

The team have not won a championship since, and that victory in itself was a flash in the pan for the team, who have not since been able to enjoy the total dominance they did since the unstoppable combination of Michael Schumacher’s aggressive driving and the technical expertise of Ross Brawn. They have consistently finished near the top – in the top 4 for what is now over two decades, but considering their power and driving talent, these are not ‘good’ results for the Scuderia.

Ferrari engines

Arguably the most historically revered team in Formula One, Ferrari have been on somewhat of a downswing; despite having two world champions – one a four-time title winner – piloting their cars, they have been unable to outdo the raw power of Mercedes, whose drivers have significantly less experience than their own.

The team will unveil the specifications of their new engine soon; more details of this will be revealed in pre-season testing at Barcelona, but for now sources say they have chosen to focus on cooling and ignition times as key factors.

Both president Sergio Marchionne and team principal Maurizio Arrivabene consistently said over the past year that the Ferrari engine was not ‘near as powerful’ as those of Mercedes, and that they were going into the 2016 season hoping for their car to be a “Mercedes beater.”

Today, it was also announced that Toro Rosso would be on the 2015 Ferrari engine rather than the 2016 one, which had been adapted specifically for the Scuderia.

It was always extremely improbable that Toro Rosso would give Vettel and Raikkonen any serious competition – although Verstappen did in fact test Vettel for a very short moment earlier in 2015. The 2015 Ferrari engine, however, is still significantly superior to Renault’s 2015 engine – and has performed better on the grid and off it in terms of reliability, with Vettel only suffering a single retirement in the year.

In addition to this, the Toro Rossos will have the momentum of convincing performances in their debut season, and look to capitalize on that as Kvyat and Ricciardo attempt to workaround Renault’s rebranded engines, with the Austrian outfit still looking for a manufacturer after the season has ended.

Can Toro Rosso combat any of the other big name teams? Perhaps not, despite their young talent. However, with now obviously superior engines to their sister team and a the definite presence of innate skill, they could outrace their competitors, especially at circuits where raw power is of the essence, and reliability is essential – ergo, everywhere.

In terms of technical aspects alone, Manor could have in fact combated the Toro Rossos; but with relatively inexperienced drivers who put in a series of abysmal performances last year, it does not appear that being powered by the Mercedes engine will do much.

Of all the midfield teams, Toro Rosso look to be a strong bet ahead of pre-season testing.

The 2016 Formula One season will commence the weekend of 20th March with the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, Melbourne.


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