INSIGHTS

  • The Power of Franz Tost

Report

29 June 2018

When you talk about home races in Formula 1, thoughts automatically go to the nationalities of the drivers, or the bases for each of the teams. But rarely do other team personnel get mentioned when racing on home turf.

This weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix may be Red Bull’s home race, but the man in charge of Toro Rosso is also an Austrian who has history at the Spielberg circuit now known as the Red Bull Ring.

“Of course it’s special, because in Austria and in Spielberg I started working in Formula 1,” Franz Tost says. “I was there as an instructor at the Walter Lechner Racing School and spent many, many weeks over there. It’s the feeling like coming home, back to the roots where everything started.

“Spielberg is a very special race track. It’s so nice being fitted into the nature, with all the undulations. These days the smaller track is good, and I also know the longer track too with very fast corners. It’s a very exciting weekend and feeling for me.

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“I must say thank you to Red Bull and to Dietrich Mateschitz because they really refurbished everything over there, the complete area is looking very nice, so I’m always happy to go back.”

And going back allows the Toro Rosso team principal a chance to catch up with familiar faces as well as those roots that helped him on his path to becoming an F1 boss.

“I remember last year I met some old friends who I was driving with together in Formula Ford. I asked them what is happening in the Austrian motorsport scene because there is nothing. They said ‘Ah, people don’t have money’ and I said ‘It’s not possible to have less money than we had!’

“If you turned us upside down nothing would have fallen out! It’s a shame, but this is how it is. Anyway, it’s nice to see some old friends and to discuss things like motorsports.”

Although leading an Italian team with a Japanese power unit partner, Tost always wants to deliver a competitive performance at his own home grand prix, and is hopeful of doing so after recent developments on many fronts.

“It’s not an extra pressure, but of course it’s an additional motivation. I hope that the team performs well. We are bringing some new aero upgrades to Austria and we can see then where we end up on the performance side. Honda brought the new engine to Canada which means it will help us in Austria, because Austria is more a stop and go track, and I’m confident that we will show a good performance.”

While Toro Rosso-Honda is relentlessly chasing performance, Tost’s confidence stems from the standout results in the first third of the season in Bahrain and Monaco. Taking those examples of what the team can achieve, he sees the next challenge as replicating those performances on a regular basis.

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“We had some ups and downs,” Tost admits. “We did a very good race in Bahrain where we finished fourth. We had a very good race in Monaco where we finished seventh. We had not good races in Baku, in China as well as in Barcelona, and I hope that we will find for the rest of the season a good balance to be at least with one car in Q3 and to score points. That’s the target.

“Realistically speaking, in Bahrain we would normally have finished seventh. But Kimi [Raikkonen] did not finish the race, the two Red Bulls did not finish the race, so that means three positions of quick cars that are normally ahead of us did not finish. Nevertheless we showed good performance in qualifying where Pierre [Gasly] finished sixth and because of the penalty for [Lewis] Hamilton with a gearbox change he could start from fifth, and once you’re in this fast train it’s easier to defend this position.

“This is what happened to us, but we repeated this good result in Monaco by finishing seventh with nearly all the cars seeing the chequered flag. So it means we are able to do it. Now with the upgrade from Honda’s side as well as from the team’s side I expect from Austria onwards we should have quite strong races.”

The big news of the past two weeks has been the confirmation of Red Bull’s deal with Honda from 2019 onwards, but our partnership with Toro Rosso is only eight races old. So how does Franz see the early stages of being a works partner?

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“We had a really good relationship with Honda and very good cooperation from the very beginning. We met a few times towards the end of last year, and then we were sitting down together and working out a program. Both parties worked very hard.

“Already last year Honda was not as bad as they looked, this was clear to me at least, so it was not a big surprise to me that Honda shows this good performance this year. We are working very hard to achieve another level for next season because when they are also with Red Bull Racing I’m convinced this combination is able to win races. The rest we will see.

“Being a works partner helped the team because it was a completely new situation for us. In the past we just got the power units and all the electrical boxes and the manufacturer said ‘Here it is, just put it into the car’.

“Now, the designers from Honda and from Toro Rosso are sitting together and discussing how to position everything in the best possible way a) for the weight distribution, b) for aerodynamic reasons and c) for reliability reasons as well - cooling and so on. That’s good, that’s important. Now with Red Bull on side I think we can increase the performance even more.”

Before looking forward, Tost uses Honda’s history as reason for further optimism, pointing to the on year head-start all other power unit manufacturers had during the V6 era in understanding where the biggest gains have been made so far and are likely to be in future.

“We’ve made progress from everywhere a little bit, it’s not that there is only one part. But it’s the best possible integration of the power unit into the monocoque. Then the power unit management, I think both parties made a big step forward. What I mean by power unit management it’s how to use the MGU-K, how to use the MGU-H, how to use the battery and the engine - all these factors in the best possible way.

“This is still a process where I think all the manufacturers are working very hard to increase and improve the performance, and this is where Mercedes has the biggest advantage because from the very beginning onwards they concentrated on this. All of the manufacturers had this one year advantage and it’s difficult to catch up. But in the meantime Ferrari showed us it’s possible to do and I think Honda as well will do it.”

And the latest power unit upgrade - introduced in Canada - was a further positive for Tost, who adds: “I was very pleased, they promised us 0.3s and we got 0.3s.”

Approaching the halfway point in the season and with Red Bull confirmed as part of the Honda family from 2019, focus will soon turn to the future. Far from overshadowing Toro Rosso’s partnership, the team principal is convinced the news is positive for the Faenza-based outfit too.

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“We will see many more synergies,” Tost says. “This year we have our own gearbox, why does Toro Rosso need its own gearbox? We will have a complete rear end from Red Bull, because why should we develop this? It takes away money and takes away resources when we should be concentrating on other factors where we can increase our performance. Therefore I am very much looking forward to this.

“We were pushing for this already with the Renault engine but then we had this change in the meantime, therefore it was difficult because if the engine is not the same you cannot use those synergies. The gearbox fitting points are different, the exhaust system is different and so on, which makes it nearly impossible to really use the synergies.”

When the team will have a year’s experience of works status and with the closer ties between Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Honda in 2019, Tost is setting his sights higher than his team has ever been for next season, with a current best of sixth place in the constructors’ championship coming a decade ago.

“The target from Toro Rosso must be to be in the front part of the midfield. It depends always on how much experience our drivers have. We must know next year which drivers are with us because the drivers are a very important factor, but then you can estimate where the team can finish.

“If everything works in the best possible way then we should be close or ahead of [Renault and McLaren]. It will not be easy but it should be possible.”

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