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The Character of Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso is a team with a lot going for it. For a start, it is all that remains of the Minardi saga, in spite of its rather silly name. And it is run by one of F1′s most mischievous characters, Gerhard Berger. Add to that the fact that it is the only team to have an American driver in its line-up and I have to keep an eye on it.

Scott

Scott Speed

Anyone with a smattering of a Latin language knows that Toro Rosso is Italian for Red Bull; it’s a pity that the company boss, Dietrich Mateschitz, felt it was so important to rename the team for the corporation even though there was so much goodwill attached to the Minardi name. As a result, the team has to build a completely new image of its own without the lingering aura that surrounded Minardi.

But it is happening. Thanks largely to Berger’s love of fun, Toro Rosso begins to emerge as the “bad boy” in the paddock, the team that bucks authority and goes its own way. The irreverent nature of its press releases may be a bit cheesy but at least they’re different from the usual bland, careful statements.

It remains hard to see the team as separate from the Red Bull giant, however, and their use of an obvious copy of the parent company’s RB3 chassis confirms that impression. Although they lag behind Red Bull in development of the car, it is quite likely that they will benefit from the gains made in that camp and will become ever more competitive as the season progresses. The alternative would be to develop independently and find their own tweaks to what is beginning to look a very sound design. That is their best hope of catching and overtaking the parent company, although it also carries the risk of failure and a season spent at the back of the grid with Spyker and Super Aguri.

It remains to be seen which route they will choose. And we also await a verdict on the abilities of the Toro Rosso drivers. Last season was inconclusive, with Liuzzi doing better than Speed in the early season but generally overshadowed by him later on. And so far this year that has continued, with first one then the other getting the upper hand. It is very hard to rate them without a driver of known quality to compare them with.

For some reason that I do not understand, Liuzzi is highly regarded in F1 circles – perhaps because of his performances in the lower formulae. Yet, if we look at the cold statistics, Speed has performed at least as well as Vitantonio and should be accorded the same respect. I suspect that the reason he is not rated is a matter of personality, rather than talent. Scott’s pre-F1 record is impressive too but his character is seemingly laid back, informal and altogether too “nice”.

One would think that Berger, of all people, would understand that an irreverent attitude is no bar to driving talent, seeing that he was renowned for practical jokes when paired with Ayrton Senna, but apparently our Austrian hero wants others to be more serious than himself. There is a vast ambition in Berger that shows itself in his goals for Toro Rosso and I think it is this that led him to string Speed along during the off season – he wants to see the same drive in the American.

I would suggest that Scott Speed has already demonstrated a hidden and understated drive that is exactly what Berger is looking for. This is the same man who raced while suffering from a debilitating disease and conquered it. The light-hearted, nice guy persona is cover, that’s all.

All this will be irrelevant if Toro Rosso cannot develop their equipment, however. They lack the depth of experience that other teams have and so must work that much harder to bring their car to its full potential. Many doubt that they can do it but I think the spirit of Minardi hovers over the team and will ensure that they get down to business and produce the goods in the end.

Yeah, it’s true, I like ‘em and forgive their weaknesses as a result. But at least they have some character…

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Avanti Minardi!

Stuart Garlick has written the definitive article about “Minardi-cool” – it’s over on PitPass dot com and thoroughly recommended for its insight into the heart and soul of the diehard F1 fan.

Martini

The quintessential Minardi driver, Pierluigi Martini, Detroit 1988

I have been thinking about Minardi-cool and its importance for the sport. There was a time when I was a Ferrari fan, way back in the sixties, but that was largely because John Surtees was driving for them at the time; when he left, I moved on too. Even then, however, I had a soft spot for the no-hopers, those small teams who stood no real chance of success but stayed in the game because they loved motor racing. Hence my support for ATS, both the Italian Automobili Turismo e Sport and the later German team with the same initials, Osella and anything remotely connected with Lola.

It’s the “support for the underdog” thing, I suppose, and certainly that has a lot to do with it. But that is not all or I would be mourning the disappearance of teams like Parnelli, Coloni and Pacific (which I’m not). No, there has to be more than the David/Goliath factor or I can remain merely an interested spectator.

And Minardi, especially in the early years, had it all. Not only did they compete on the smallest budget of all the teams but they enjoyed every moment. They could not afford the latest technology and anything other than a customer engine but, without fail, they designed the prettiest car in the field. And often they produced a chassis that could surprise much wealthier teams, making up for their lack of muscle with balance and handling.

I was a Minardi supporter from the first and imagined myself to be the only one. Much later I discovered that the team had worked its magic on many others and there was a large fanbase out there. There is hope for the human race yet.

You see, what motivated Minardi and kept them going all those years was pure love of F1 racing; they were delighted to be in the sport and never became jaded or disillusioned. That takes some doing when you’re a team running on a shoestring budget – F1 regulations are conspicuously mean to the poorly-funded. Minardi was a constant reminder of what the sport is really all about.

Now they have gone forever and Stuart Garlick is not the only one who searches for a replacement, finding some hope in Spyker, but it’s really not quite the same. He is right that the FIA should ease the passage of new entrants into F1 but at the moment that seems as likely as Max Mosley admitting that his tenure has been a disaster for the sport. We have little option but to hang on grimly and wait for a miracle.

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Minardi in Champ Cars

Paul Stoddart has brought the Minardi name into Champ Cars by buying into the CTE Racing-HVM team. He is also hoping that there will be no need for politics in the American series as there was in F1. And who can blame him after the antics he was forced to get up to for Minardi to survive in F1?

Minardi

1998 Minardi

It is good to see the Minardi name live on but, of course, the ethos of the team is long gone. In their Italian days, the team was the embodiment of all that was good in F1: a love of motor sport for its own sake, a light-hearted spirit that refused to be depressed by adversity and the best food in the paddock. Most of that had evaporated by the time Stoddart bought the outfit and now it is only a memory.

In reflecting on his foray into F1, Mr. Stoddart confirms what we all knew – that it has ceased to be a sport and is now a business. Small wonder that tiny minnows like Minardi have been squeezed out. But perhaps the most interesting point Stoddart makes is that he knows of at least one other F1 team considering making the move to Champ Cars.

One casts around quickly to see if a possible taker might be identified; but there is no obvious candidate. Red Bull already have a finger in the pie so perhaps this is what he means. But, if he has some other team in mind and especially if it is true, this is a telling comment on the fluctuating fortunes of F1 and Champ Cars.

When Champ Cars first began, it was not given much hope of survival in competition with its alter ego, the Indy Racing League. To everyone’s surprise, it has blossomed and become a major outlet for European and South American drivers who cannot get into F1 – there is currently only one American driver involved. If it now starts to siphon off teams from F1 as well, even the FIA would have to admit that there is something wrong with their sport/business.

Champ Car is attractive because it does not have the convoluted politics of F1, it relies on lower and less costly technology, but still delivers on the entertainment side. Battles between leading drivers are just as enthralling as in F1, perhaps more so since they are all in approximately equal machinery. It is a sport still and the main business of competition on the track has not been forgotten.

Perhaps F1 could learn a few things from it…

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The United States Grand Prix

So at last Michael has managed to break Alonso’s winning streak by netting his fifth Indianapolis victory. I’ll say nothing about the convenience of his passing his team mate, Felipe Massa, in the first pit stop. After all, I have never had anything against team orders, knowing that they have been a part of F1 since its inception.

M Schumacher

Michael Schumacher

The race was interesting from several aspects. It was clear, for instance, that Bridgestone had an advantage over Michelin at this track. And this was obviously the result of Michelin going conservative in its determination not to have a repeat of last year’s fiasco, in spite of all their denials. Both the extent of Ferrari’s superiority in practice and the race and Toyota’s sudden equality with Renault were adequate demonstration of this. I have no doubt that things will return to normal once the teams re-assemble in Magny Cours for the French Grand Prix.

Trulli’s drive from last to fourth place was magnificent, even taking the tire advantage into account. And it is a shame that Ralf had to retire his Toyota before reaping the rewards of an impressive drive. It seems that Indy loves one Schumacher but hates the other.

For me, however, the high point in the race came at the moment Liuzzi managed to slip by Rosberg. He was driving what only a short time ago was called a Minardi; this must surely be the only time in history that a Minardi has passed a Williams, albeit in Toro Rosso form. How the mighty are fallen.

Speaking of Toro Rosso, we are reminded of Scott Speed and how sad we were to see him eliminated in the multi-car pile up at Turn 2 on the first lap. Liuzzi showed that the Toro Rosso was better than expected on this circuit and Scott might well have been able to score a point or two if he had avoided the accident. I can only hope that America will continue to follow his fortunes for the rest of the season, now that he has had some media coverage.

That pile up also gave us the rare sight of the McLarens taking each other out. Shades of the Prost/Senna days. Montoya gets the blame, although an accident always looked inevitable in that frantic scramble for position. It’s been a while, too, since we saw an F1 car somersaulting through the air as did Heidfeld’s BMW Sauber.

Heidfeld

Nick Heidfeld

Finally, there is the excellent performance of Fisichella, for once in the better Renault. For the first stint he was the only one to stand a remote chance of staying with the Ferraris and, when even that chance disappeared, he kept to his task and grabbed third place. It was a timely reminder that he is no slouch when his luck holds out.

So it was an interesting race in spite of all the retirements. And Michael has clawed back some of Alonso’s advantage in points. Nineteen seems a huge gap until one realizes that it’s only two race wins against two retirements. Keep finishing those races, Fernando!

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