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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Franz Tost: Victory and podium dreams are now 'impossible' for Toro Rosso and the rest of the Formula One midfield

The Italian team's principal blames lack of funds for why the top three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing

Brendon Hartley, right, and Pierre Gasly, left, the Toro Rosso drivers in 2018 have, like the rest of the midfield, had to be content with the scraps in F1 as three teams have dominated at front. Getty 
Brendon Hartley, right, and Pierre Gasly, left, the Toro Rosso drivers in 2018 have, like the rest of the midfield, had to be content with the scraps in F1 as three teams have dominated at front. Getty 

Ten years ago the greatest moment in the relatively short history of the Toro Rosso team occurred.

Sebastian Vettel became the youngest winner in Formula One history when he guided his STR3 chassis to victory in a wet Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

It was the first win for the team formed in late 2005 after Dietrich Mateschitz, the owner of the energy drink firm Red Bull, bought Minardi, who had been on the grid since 1985, and renamed them.

There have been no further victories since then and a frank Franz Tost does not see a second success coming anytime soon due to the current order of things in F1.

Speaking during the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race weekend, the Austrian looked at the domination of three teams in Mercedes-GP, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing, Toro Rosso's sister team, for killing off their aspirations of challenging at the front.

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Read more:

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Looking back to Italy 2008, Tost said: "It was special circumstances as it was wet, and with a fantastic driver in the car, and we were able to win this race.

"Nowadays this would be absolutely impossible. The first six cars, if nothing happens, are lapping the rest and this performance difference is far too much."

Sunday's race in Abu Dhabi, the final round of the 2018 season, was another example of the gulf between the top three teams and the rest.

Romain Grosjean was the best of the rest in seventh spot in qualifying in his Haas, but was 1.4 seconds off pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton's pace.

In the race, with Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari retiring early, it allowed Carlos Sainz's Renault to finish sixth behind two Mercedes, two Red Bulls and the second Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.

Sainz was 1 minute, 12.548 seconds behind winner Hamilton, but that gap flattered the Renault given that three laps of the 55-lap event were under safety car conditions, while two more were with Virtual Safety Car (VSC) rules.

Brendan Hartley was a lap down in 12th in his final race for Toro Rosso, while Pierre Gasly had just been lapped before his Honda engine failed with nine laps to go.

It has been the story of the season. There have been effectively two divisions in the sport. You have Division 1, which is made up of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing.

Then there are the other seven teams: Toro Rosso, Sauber, Haas, McLaren, Renault, Force India and Williams.

If they get within a second of the pole-sitter at a race, it is a great effort. Finish on the same lap, same story.

To put things into context, Mercedes scored 655 in the constructors' standings to win it for a fifth successive year.

Ferrari scored 571 and Red Bull 419. The other seven teams combined scored 417, meaning that even if they united as some mega seven-team force they would have still been fourth in the championship.

As to the reason, Tost is quite clear on the disparity.

"It is a question of money," he said. "We can develop the car to a certain level. But to do more research and development, which is necessary, you need much more money.

"We have a third of the budget that let me say Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari have, and a third of the manpower, and it is the same for the other midfield teams. We simply don't have the money to spend and it becomes difficult."

Sergio Perez's third place in Azerbaijan for Force India in April was the only podium finish in 2018 in 21 races achieved by a driver not racing for one of the elite trio of teams.

To put into context the fortune that went into that podium finish in Baku for the Mexican, the race saw both Red Bulls collide to take each other out, and Valtteri Bottas's Mercedes retire with a puncture.

Tost is under no doubt that the FIA and Liberty Media, the sport's new owners, must act if they want to shake up the top of the order in the years to come.

"The new owners and the FIA have to come up with a solution to come down on the costs and to come up with technical and sporting regulations where also the other seven teams have a chance to close the gap," he said.

The closest Toro Rosso came to to the top three was in Bahrain when Gasly was fourth, finishing a minute behind race-winner Vettel.

Given the limitations of the fact his team do not have the financial resources to compete at the front, Tost takes satisfaction from fulfilling his objective of establishing promising talent who can go on and race for their more competitive sister team.

Since Toro Rosso's first race in F1 in Bahrain in March 2006, four drivers have graduated to Red Bull from them, with Vettel the most successful as he won four titles with them, while Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have both won races with them.

Daniil Kvyat is the only one who has not been victorious, but he did score podiums, and he is returning to Toro Rosso for a third stint in 2019 to partner rookie Alexander Albon.

Gasly is the fifth driver to make the move this winter, replacing Ricciardo who is heading to Renault.

Tost is not sad about losing the services of the Frenchman, despite rating his talents, and said: "It justifies the existence of Toro Rosso.

"I am really happy with that. When Dietrich Mateschitz decided to build up this team they said one thing in the team philosophy must be to educate young drivers from the Red Bull young driver pool.

"If you look at the history there are very many drivers who came through this Red Bull young driver academy and they were racing for Toro Rosso, they improved their performance and ended up at Red Bull Racing.

"They were successful there, they won races and they won championships and it shows the good work within Toro Rosso."

Given the current regulations that satisfaction appears the thing most likely to keep Tost and his team going, with the front of the field that they are unable to compete at.