Formula One 2012 half-term report: Toro Rosso and Force India

Yesterday was the turn of the “Q1 massive” — Caterham, Marussia and HRT, bless em. Two of them got an A for effort; it’s hard not to be impressed with their doggedness and, in the case of HRT and Marussia, the raw fact that they are making their cars faster. Relatively of course.

Today’s teams will not get an A. Toro Rosso and Sahara Force India have been the big losers in what was always expected to be one hell of midfield battle, what with fractions of a second making the difference between Q2 and Q3 this year, and indeed, in the case of Toro Rosso’s Jean Eric Vergne through Q1 and Q2.

Let’s get it straight, Toro Rosso is a luxury only Red Bull could afford to pay for: a bona fide, well funded talent school for F1 drivers. Thrive and show real flair and there is a real opportunity of a drive with the team that’s built the fastest car in F1 for the last three seasons, Red Bull. Fail to shine and the team will, not unreasonably, call for the next two faces down the audition line. Jaime Alguesuari and Sebastien Buemi will tell you that. And yet last year’s axed pairing scored over 40 points. Hardly impressive, but consider this season’s team of Vergne and Aussie Daniel Ricciardo have so far amassed just four.

Frankly on that performance Toro Rosso deserves to be judged alongside the Caterhams, Marussias and HRTs in the company of whom Vergne has watched Q2 and Q3 no less than five times this year. And yet both he and Ricciardo arrived on a wave of huge hype, Ricciardo especially after he blitzed the Young Driver Test for Red Bull. Only once, qualifying sixth in Bahrain this season, has Ricciardo looked like the man in that car in that test.

So what’s going on? Are Ricciardo and Vergne (and indeed Alguesuari and Buemi) to blame or is it the team, to whom we are awarding a big D grade? From the sofa, TR has never seemed to have had much in the way of stability or strong management or the kind of specialists that make a difference to a car’s speed. Does Red Bull need to sack the current Toro Rosso structure before it spoils the dreams of any more drivers?

Paul di Resta might be feeling the same. Force India is a long way ahead of Toro Rosso on 56 points, at the back of the pack that includes Williams and Sauber and Mercedes, two of which have won races. And yet their grip on that pack is loosening and it’s starting to show in the drivers who are mindful that Force India, though not as ruthless as Toro Rosso, has made a habit of taking a one-in/one out approach each year to its driver contracts.

Nico Hulkenberg, forced to sit 2011 out despite scoring his pole position for Williams, appears now to have the bit between his teeth and his improved performance relative to di Resta is dragging the team forward. Di Resta meanwhile seems a little uncomfortable. There was talk about a Mercedes or even a Ferrari drive in 2013 before the break, he’ll need to come back in a better frame of mind if he’s going to keep track of that sort of ambition.

Once again, it is important to point out just how close it is in the pack, but young Paul and indeed the team need to see that as an opportunity not an excuse. Force India declared it was aiming for fifth in the Constructors’ Championship this year, it’s currently a slightly distant eighth. Sorry boys, but that’s a C from us on the sofa.

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