Formula 1 2009: preview part 4

March 25, 2009

I’ll be taking a look at the prospects of the teams and drivers for the year ahead every day this week.  Today, we’ll look at the the chances of Toyota and  Toro Rosso Ferrari.

TOYOTA

Team principal Tadayashi Yamashina Technical Director Pascal Vasselon Base Cologne, Germany Car Toyota TF109 Engine Toyota RVX-09 Designer Pascal Vasselon 2008 5th place, 56 points

2008 was perhaps Toyota’s most consistent season to date, although they never quite matched the heady heights of their 2005-vintage competitiveness.  However, with their major rival Honda now gone to the wall and still no wins to show for seven seasons of astronomical budgets, 2009 could well be a win or bust year.  Put simply, unless the team start winning some races sooner rather than later, it would be foolhardy to think the team’s future participation at the sport’s summit is anything like guaranteed.  The new car seems to be reasonable and the drivers think it’s a step forward.  What they really need, however, is a leap.

Veteran peddler Jarno Trulli drives the number 9 car in Toyota’s unchanged driver line-up for 2009.  Trulli reaches the 200-race milestone come the start of the Australian Grand Prix, with just one win to show for it and little evidence to suggest he would have deserved any more.  Trulli is one of the sport’s very fastest men over one lap, but the same skill, consistency and commitment still seems lacking on Sunday afternoons.  If the cars do prove to be easier to overtake in this year, Trulli’s general raceday strategy of tooling around with a huge crocodile of frustrated pursuers may well be found out.

His teammate Timo Glock will drive number 10.  Glock hit the headlines in a big way in the final race of last year, as it was his car – struggling desperately for grip on the wrong tyres in the late race downpour – that Lewis Hamilton passed in the final corner of the final lap to win the title.  The important fact here, though, is that he was ahead of Trulli.  Indeed, Glock had the measure of his team leader throughout the second half of 2008, scoring the team’s best result of 2nd at the Hungarian Grand Prix.  Glock looks to be a very solid addition to the field, and I’d be unsurprised to see him have a lengthy F1 career.  If Toyota manage to find race-winning pace in 2009, I’d expect Glock to be the beneficiary.

Trulli at a glance: Born Pescara, Italy  Age 34.   1996 German Formula 3 Champion First GP Australia 1997  GP starts 199  (1 win, 3 pole positions)  Points 214

Glock at a glance: Born Lindenfels, Germany  Age 27.  2001 Formula BMW ADAC Champion, 2007 GP2 Champion  First GP Canada 2004  GP starts 22  (best result: 2nd)  Points 27

TORO ROSSO FERRARI

Team principal Franz Tost Technical Director Giorgio Ascanelli Base Faenza, Italy Car Toro Rosso STR4 (rebadged Red Bull RB5) Engine Ferrari 056 Designer Adrian Newey 2008 6th place, 39 points

Toro Rosso cannot reasonably expect to match their dream season in 2008.  In an identical chassis, they beat their senior Red Bull team in the championship standings and, more importantly, in race-by-race competitiveness.  Their lives became a dream at Monza, where the team who used to be Minardi took pole position and the race win on a damp weekend.  This year, expect them to be beaten by Red Bull, who have an improved Renault engine and Toro Rosso’s knight in shining armour Sebastian Vettel in the driving seat.  However, the team will surely be looking to consolodate their newfound position towards the front of the midfield rather than at the back.  The combination of Adrian Newey’s elegant chassis and the Ferrari engine should help them in this quest, but I think they’ve used up their miracles.

For the second year running, the Toro Rosso drivers are a tale of two Sebastiens, with Swiss newcomer Sebastien Buemi replacing Sebastian Vettel in the team’s number 12 car.  Buemi is the sport’s only rookie driver at the start of the 2009 season, and the first Swiss since his hapless countryman Jean-Denis Deletraz rewrote the book of Hopelessly Outclassed Pay Drivers in 1995.  Buemi competed with some distinction in GP2 last year, and arrives in Formula 1 on the back of some impressive early testing form.  To expect more than a point or three would, however, probably be unreasonable.

For a long while it looked like Toro Rosso would dispense of the services of Sebastien Bourdais, who pilots car 11, in favour of the well-backed Japanese Takuma Sato.  Common sense, often at a premium in the paddock, this time prevailed.  Although Bourdais contributed a scant 4 points of the team’s 2008 total, he also had the lion’s share of its bad luck.  History may well also prove that being beaten by Sebastian Vettel is nothing to be ashamed of.  Bourdais, one of the most successful ever single seater racers in the American Champ Car series, is very deserving of a second chance in F1.  Expect him to have the measure of the other Seb this time.

Bourdais at a glance: Born Le Mans, France  Age 30.   1999 French Formula 3 Champion, 2002 International Formula 3000 Champion, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 CART Champ Car World Series Champion First GP Australia 2008  GP starts 18 (best result: 7th)  Points 4

Buemi at a glance: Born Aigle, Switzerland  Age 20.  Rookie.

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