Scuderia Toro Rosso have truly begun to feel the substantial effects of using last year’s Ferrari power unit with a disappointing performance in the Japanese Grand Prix that yielded no points. The team was off pace all weekend – with neither car progressing to the top ten qualifying shoot out.
And despite both cars managing to stay out of trouble for the majority of the race – it turned out that speed was far more important than consistency in Suzuka. Carlos Sainz failed to score points for his 6th consecutive weekend as he only managed 17th place. Team mate, Daniil Kvyat, did a little better, but still failed to make a realistic impression on the points by finishing 13th.
“P13 was the maximum we could do today,” admitted Kvyat after the race. “Our straight-line speed is just nowhere, which is very unfortunate, but there’s not much more we can do, we’re just too slow.” Suzuka’s flowing nature, which doesn’t contain many slow-speed corners, makes it particularly important for teams to have a strong engine.
Carlos Sainz echoed the thoughts of Kvyat, saying the engine dilemma is: “a frustrating situation to be in.” The limited power heavily affected the Spaniards race after making his first pit stop. “We dropped behind the two McLarens and from that point onwards our race was over” he explained. “We were just not able to overtake because of our low top-speed.” This revelation is especially concerning because he implies the weak 2016 Honda PU is now faster than the 2015 Ferrari PU.
Power units have been a talking point for Toro Rosso this year because it appears the only thing holding them back from regular points finishes. Their Technical Director, James Key, has produced a car which some have called ‘one of the best’ in 2016. Unfortunately, the team ended up with a 2015 specification power unit this year when their relationship with previous suppliers, Renault, soured in late 2015. The 2015 Ferrari PU was the only option for the team, as all other manufacturers refused to supply them. The detriment of using a 2015 specification unit is the absence of in-season development. In other words, it was imminent that Toro Rosso would struggle as the 2016 Formula One season neared its conclusion.
Team Principal, Franz Tost, best summed up the struggle and reality of their current situation, saying: “We simply don’t have the speed on the straight lines, something you certainly need to perform well.” He would also go onto say: “all the other [teams have] made steps forward with the development of their Power Unit,” and because of this Toro Rosso “simply face a disadvantage regarding speed.”
But in the long run, this problem will be resolved at the end of 2016 when Toro Rosso receive a current specification engine for 2017. The deep wounds between Renault and the Italian team have healed and business as usual will continue until 2018 between the two. Interestingly, Toro Rosso will be able to badge the power units as they please, as Red Bull have done with title sponsor TAG-Heuer this year.
However, something that isn’t over are the struggles in 2016. This is because the team have not yet raced at Brazil. The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, which hosts the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, is similar in nature to Suzuka with little-to-no slow-speed corners. This makes for a particular emphasis not necessarily on straight line speed, but overall power unit horsepower.
The main consolation for the team is the round preceding Brazil, Mexico, will likely see them fighting for points again. Given the 2000m+ altitude, power units are heavily converged because of the thin air. This will bring the 2015 power unit closer to the pace of the 2016 Honda and Renault engines.
But before all that can happen, Toro Rosso will return to the grid for the United States Grand Prix in a fortnights time at the Circuit of the Americas.