The Changing Face of F1: Minardi to Toro Rosso

The landscape of Formula One is ever-changing, teams come and go, and they are bought out at their peak or sold off at their lowest ebb. Over time teams can go by many different names. This series will take a look at the many guises teams have gone through, tracking a team’s history throughout its various name changes. This time, the focus is on the team currently known as Toro Rosso and how Minardi to Toro Rosso came about.

Minardi 1985 -2005

After becoming established as a Formula Two team Minardi made the big step up to Formula One, starting with just one driver Pierluigi Martini. 1985 was an unsuccessful first season for the Italian outfit scoring no points and only finishing three times. 1986 and 1987 were not much better. Despite now running two cars the team only managed a collective six finishes across the two seasons.

1988 marked a turning point for Minardi with Pierluigi Martini, returning to the team after two years away, finishing sixth at the Detroit Grand Prix scoring the teams first World Championship point. More midfield finishes followed but no more points that year. 1989 was a further improvement with the team scoring six points overall, including both drivers finishing in the points at the British Grand Prix. 1990 saw Minardi run in the midfield but score no points. The early 1990’s saw Minardi’s most successful period scoring points every year from 1991-95 including the teams highest Constructors Championship finish (seventh in 1991).

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw a downturn in Minardi’s fortunes constantly running at the back of the grid. With underpowered, uncompetitive cars this period in the team’s history is better known as a proving ground for young drivers, with future race winners Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli and Mark Webber as well as future world champion Fernando Alonso all making their Formula One debut with the team.

The mid 2000s saw the team struggle financially and team principal Paul Stoddart became a huge proponent for cost reduction in Formula One. The team did get a final points finish at the controversial 2005 United States Grand Prix. With all the teams on Michelin tyres pulling out due to safety concerns, only the three teams on Bridgestone tyres started the race. Christijan Albers and Patrick Friesacher finished fifth and sixth respectively earning the team, a combined seven points.

Toro Rosso 2006 – Present

In 2005 Paul Stoddart announced he would be willing to sell the team, if he could find a buyer who could move the team forward. On September 10th it was announced that the Red Bull drinks company, would be purchasing the team. Already owning one team having purchased the Jaguar team 12 months prior, Red Bull’s intention was to use Minardi as a junior team to promote drivers who had risen through their young driver programme. Despite a fan petition to keep the Minardi name the team was renamed Scuderia Toro Rosso. Initially Red Bull only took a 50% stake in the team with former Ferrari and McLaren driver Gerhard Berger owning the other 50%, however Red Bull bought out Berger in late 2008 taking full control of the team.

Scott Speed and Viantonio Liuzzi debuted for Toro Rosso in 2006, with the team moving up the grid but only managing one points finish, Liuzzi’s eighth place in the USA. The same two drivers started in 2007, however the team replaced Speed with Sebastian Vettel after the European Grand Prix. As in 2006 the team only scored points at one race but this time both drivers finished in the points with Vettel and Liuzzi finishing fourth and sixth respectively in China. 2008 was a highlight year for the team with Sebastian Vettel scoring regular points finishes and scoring both the team’s, and his, first pole position and race victory at the Italian Grand Prix.

In 2009 Sebastian Vettel was promoted to the senior Red Bull team and was replaced by Sébastien Buemi. Points were harder to come by in 2009 with the team only scoring eight overall, compared to the 39 from the previous season and Sébastien Bourdais was replaced mid-season by Jaime Alguersuari.

The Alguersuari/Buemi partnership lasted for two and a half seasons continuing to score points and in 2011 the pairing scored the team’s highest total to date ending the year with 41 points. Despite this both drivers were replaced for 2012 with Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne taking over. Both drivers continued to score points over the next couple of years before Ricciardo was promoted to Red Bull Racing to replace the departing Mark Webber. His seat was filled by Russian driver Daniil Kvyat, whose four points finishes in 2014 were enough to impress Red Bull, that he was chosen to replace Sebastian Vettel after he moved to Ferrari.

2015 saw Toro Rosso continue to race drivers from their young driver programme, lining up Carlos Sainz Jnr and 17 year old Max Verstappen, son of former Minardi driver Jos Verstappen.

Formula One’s Ultimate Underdog

Since the team’s debut in 1985 they have continued to defy the odds, from unlikely points finishes as Minardi to Sebastian Vettel’s improbable win in Monza. The practice of promoting young drivers, which was in effect long before the team was named Toro Rosso, sees an alumni which includes race winners Fisichella, Trulli, Webber and Ricciardo and two World Champions in Alonso and Vettel. With the team now feeding drivers to the senior Red Bull team that list is likely to increase in the future. They are a colourful team whose character is part of Formula One history, and a reminder to other teams that the sport would be much poorer if the back marker teams were priced out of the sport altogether.

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