The fight for a full-time Formula One seat is as fierce and competitive as it has ever been.
With only 22 seats available from 2016, with the arrival of the American Haas team as a manufacturer, a glowing career in junior single seater racing is not enough to secure a drive in F1.
Personal sponsorship and a slice of fortune are just as important in a successful application as showing your quality within a race car. However, the modern day racing driver’s most vital of hurdles has become a quest to be spotted and signed to a junior programme of one of the sport’s leading outfits.
Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Williams, Lotus (through Gravity Sport Management) have all succumbed to the pressure of signing drivers and securing partnerships with other teams to showcase their portfolio of talent.
This pressure has risen from the success of Red Bull’s academy of drivers, with the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr all have enjoyed or are being tipped for stardom.
Whilst Red Bull deserve huge credit for discovering some of the finest talent in motorsport, their search for world championships would arguably be in jeopardy if they did not have the services of the sister outfit, Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Since their inception in 2006, Toro Rosso has worked tirelessly to give experience to the long production chain of Red Bull academy drivers. Not all recruits are able to make the big step, Sebastien Buemi, Jean-Eric Vergne & Jaime Alguersuari have all succeeded in other categories but were disposed of swiftly by the Austrian energy drinks company.
However, with testing becoming more limited and the increasing importance of Friday running at a grand prix, Toro Rosso are uniquely able to offer young drivers a platform to showcase their abilities to the bosses of Red Bull in a competitive car.
The first appearance of ‘The Finger’ came at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix…who knew we’d see it another 40 times! (© Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
There is little doubt that Red Bull’s most successful graduate to date has been Vettel, with four World Championships and 41 race wins to his name. Though, even Vettel would admit, the success he has enjoyed is due to the opportunity forwarded to him by Toro Rosso.
Vettel’s first victory came in 2008 with the Toro Rosso team after a composed and exceptional drive in the pouring rain at Monza. Starting from pole position, the German dominated from start to finish to take an unlikely win with a full 32 second cushion to the closet Red Bull of Mark Webber.
“Unbelievable,” Vettel stated after the 2008 Italian GP. “The whole race we had no problems. The car was working fine. It was a fantastic race, a very good strategy but all that was gone when I crossed the finish line.
“The lap back to the pits and the whole podium ceremony was just unbelievable. For sure it is the best day of my life. These pictures, the emotions, I will never forget.
“Who might have thought about this at the beginning of the season? We had a poor start and we got better and better, I am speechless.”
The German’s shock at winning in Monza is a testament to Toro Rosso and their hard work to give young driver’s the opportunity to progress in the sport. Their success has raised eyebrows on many occasions, especially when they outpace the marquee Red Bull team.
Fast forward to the 2015 season and heads are yet again beginning to turn and take notice of the the sister team and their two young recruits.
Toro Rosso celebrate Max Verstappen’s fourth place in Hungary, their highest finish since the Vettel era. (© Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Verstappen’s entry into the sport had caused controversy at the start of the season, with changes to the FIA Super-License, however the 17-year-old has regularly shown he is more than capable at competing in the sports top series. Sainz Jr, son of World Rally Champion Carlos, has also impressed after a successful Formula Renault 3.5 championship winning campaign last year.
Despite some reliability issues which has affected their positions in the drivers’ standings, both Sainz Jr and Verstappen have caught the attention of Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who has openly admitted their protégé’s have given him a selection headache.
“They’ve both driven very well this year,” Horner told Autosport.
“They’ve been one of the highlights of the season so far, which just proves that giving young talent a chance pays off.”
When questioned whether Verstappen and Sainz Jr have given him problems in selecting driver line-ups, Horner replied: “Very much so.
“The programme has produced some great talent in recent years, and shows we’re not short of talent across the two teams.”
Sitting seventh in the 2015 Constructors’ championship does little justice to the Toro Rosso team in terms of what they have offered to F1. Their team has offered a home to the young and hungry in a F1 market which is ready to spit out anyone regardless of budget or talent.
Arguably, Red Bull’s success to date could not have been achieved without the support of the Faenza-based sister team.
Who could of predicted that when Red Bull anounced the launch of Scuderia Toro Rosso.