Toro Rosso has always been a testbed for Red Bull, ever since the global energy drinks brand bought Minardi from Australian business tycoon Paul Stoddart in late 2005.
SOUNDBITE (English) PAUL STODDART,
MINARDI OWNER, 2001-2005:
“We're competing with budgets that you could run a small country on and, unfortunately, we are nowhere in that league. We're operating on 10 percent of some of the teams that we are against.”
As a finishing school for drivers, it’s nurtured some of F1’s best – including Sebastian Vettel, who took the squad’s only win in Italy 2008.
Along with Daniel Ricciardo - and Max Verstappen – who in 2015 – became the youngest-ever F1 driver at just 17 years old…
SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN,
TORO ROSSO 2015-2016:
“It doesn’t really bother me that much, you know, to be the youngest rookie, and whatever. But it is just, you know, you focus on your job, and you try to do it in the best possible way.”
And all eyes will again be on the squad this year, given its new power unit partnership with Japanese car manufacturer Honda.
But, despite its recent messy divorce from McLaren still very raw, Honda’s expectations for results in 2018 remain unrealistically high.
“Our goal is to fight for the top three at the top of the grid," said the brand’s spokesman Katsuhide Moriyama.
Regardless, for Toro Rosso, it’s a first – as a works engine deal; its former suppliers – Cosworth, Ferrari and Renault – all customer contracts.
For Honda, it allows much-needed development away from the spotlight – where it can try new things, without fear of retribution in the press.
But, it’s expected to be slow going at first… with a lot of time needed to build up knowledge and performance.
… especially with two inexperienced Grand Prix drivers behind the wheel, both set for their first full campaigns in the sport.
2016 GP2 champion Pierre Gasly enjoyed five races with the squad last year, his best result 12th in Brazil – while Brendon Hartley had four races, two blighted by reliability issues, and comes to the team via sportscars.
…the former Red Bull reject’s experience with hybrid systems at Porsche said to be a big factor in his return to the fold.
SOUNDBITE: (English) BRENDON HARTLEY,
F1 DRIVER, TORO ROSSO:
"A massive opportunity for me and, yeah, looking forward to taking a full crack at a Formula One season. I think these four races for me this year were, very important to start off a full Formula One campaign."
Toro Rosso has an Everest-sized mountain to climb this year but if Honda soon has its ‘eureka moment,’ things could change very quickly.