Toro Rosso could be F1`s surprise package
London: Toro Rosso, the little sister team to Formula One champions Red Bull, may see more of the limelight when the season starts in Australia this month.
Pre-season testing, a phoney war in which teams have in the past been known to `sandbag` by running light on fuel to impress would-be sponsors or fool rivals, can lead to false dawns of course.
The fact that Toro Rosso have looked good at the Spanish circuits used in testing has already attracted attention, and the word in the paddock is that the team`s STR6 car could be a big step up for last year`s ninth-placed team.
If that proves the case, then the pressure will be on Switzerland`s Sebastien Buemi and Spain`s Jaime Alguersuari to get the most from the equipment and show their worth.
"The Toro Rosso looks ridiculously fast," 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton told reporters at a recent McLaren event.
"I think they have made a huge step forward," Renault`s Nick Heidfeld told reporters at the last pre-season test in Barcelona last week.
"They have looked good in all the last tests. Also, if you look at their car it looks quite nice and special.
"It will be a surprise to many people but not so much to us working here every day. I am sure they will make a big jump forward."
Renault team boss Eric Boullier concurred: "They definitely have done a very good job and their car looks fast. I think it`s how they develop the car during the year which will be crucial to confirm it or not."
The Italian-based team were the paupers of the travelling circus under their former guise of Minardi, owned then by Australian aviation entrepreneur Paul Stoddart.
Stoddart sold them to Red Bull`s billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz at the end of 2005 and the team became financially stable as well as benefiting from the expertise of Red Bull designer Adrian Newey.
Toro Rosso won the Italian Grand Prix from pole position in 2008, their only victory to date, and that year they managed their highest placing of sixth overall with current world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Since then, it has been a struggle.
In 2009 they were 10th out of 10 and last year, when the rules forced them to design their car in-house and they lacked their own wind tunnel, they ended up last of the established teams.
This year`s car, with a `double floor` concept harking back to Ferraris of the early 1990s, is much more adventurous while the banning of last season`s double diffusers and F-ducts has also helped to narrow the performance gap.
"I think the car is good, the team has done a really good job in one winter, they`ve worked very hard," Alguersuari, now in his second full season, told reporters in Barcelona.
"But I think we are looking better than what everyone thinks to be honest."
"It doesn`t mean I underestimate my team and myself but I am realistic and I know that if we are in front of Force India and maybe Sauber it will be a really good season for us."
At the new car`s launch at the beginning of February, team bosses struck an equally cautious note and said they were aiming for eighth place.
"The change in rules has led us to make some changes and yes, we think we have been a little bit more ambitious than last year," said technical director Giorgio Ascanelli, who worked for Ferrari in the 1980s and 1990s.
Alguersuari expected the team, who have promising Australian Daniel Ricciardo as reserve, to be able to improve the car throughout the year.
"I think development will be better than last year," he said. "We know last year the F-duct was a big handbrake for all of us, so this year without the F-duct will be a bit easier for us, we can develop more the aero balance of the car."
"So I really hope we can develop a bit more and maybe we can stay on the points during the midseason and definitely at the end of the year."
The Spaniard said any focus on lap times would be misguided because getting the most out of the new Pirelli tyres was now the key concern.
"Lewis said one thing about the races this year which was very serious and he was completely right, 100 percent," said Alguersuari.
"This year we are not going to see the drivers pushing to go for the lap time, to go fast. This year we will see the drivers just taking care of their tyres, taking care the rear tyres do not degrade and obviously to be very gentle and very smooth on the driving side."