Toro Rosso throws Ricciardo a used, gnawed bone

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Toro Rosso
Scuderia Toro Rosso has confirmed that Australian Daniel Ricciardo will be the teams official third-driver for 2011. The duties will include all the trappings of the now-defunct role of third driver with a twist, apparently he will be sharing some of the Friday practice duties with Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari. Team boss Franz Tost explains to Reuters:

“When our team was created, its stated aim was to bring on young drivers from the Red Bull Junior Programme, so Daniel’s appointment as our third driver is an obvious one,” team principal Franz Tost said on Friday.

“Although Daniel has done some F1 testing already, running on Fridays at the Grands Prix will give him a valuable insight into the additional pressures of doing it for real during a race weekend.

“I am also sure that having a hungry youngster on the books will keep our current driver pairing nice and sharp.”

Now I have completely lost the plot. I stated previously that the teams mission was starting to get cloudy for me and while I am not the sharpest tack on the corkboard, I think I am resilient enough to recall the teams original mission as re-stated by Tost above. With that in mind, I am struggling to see how retaining Buemi and Alguersuari for a third season is bringing “young drivers from the Red Bull Junior Programme”.

Attempting to deduce the reasoning, I submit it’s contractual as Buemi and Alguersuari have the option for 2011. I also can deduce that Tost is much better placed than I to know if Ricciardo is ready for prime-time at Toro Rosso or Red Bull. The young Australian was the official third-driver for Red Bull last year which means he did very little driving and a lot of talking on the Red Bull podcasts but this Friday practice role is really a dogeared proposal that has not shown big benefits in 2010 (think Paul di Resta).

Throwing Ricciardo a bone for some Friday practice time is fine and he will see more action than he would at Red Bull but what exactly does this say for any one of the three drivers? Daniel, regardless of his terrific young driver debut in Abu Dhabi, is not ready for the big league although Jaime and Sebastien should be looking over their shoulders every second because the youngster is ready to pounce at any moment. That’s quite a motivational model.

If Buemi or Alguersuari aren’t good enough to feel confident they are driving for 2011, then why play mind games in the paddock? It’s time to fish or cut bait. Was Alguersuari any more experienced than Ricciardo is now when the Spaniard made his debut? Either way, I am clearly thick-headed on this issue as I thought a revolving door of talent was the main goal, not a three-year deal for two men that have not shown the Vettel-like spark the program was intended to ferret out. Ricciardo, in my opinion, may be a brighter spark than either of the current drivers but it seems we may not see that in 2011…at least not on Sundays.

While I really do respect James Allen and his insight, his column on this very topic confused the hell out of me. He was pointing to this as a great example of a program in full swing and effective. That it is a knock-on of the Vettel success, he suggests. He argues that the team seem to give a driver two years to prove themselves before showing them the curb (kerb). He proffers the very notion that this is Buemi’s big year to prove himself but unless I am taking crazy pills, 2011 will be Buemi’s third year (the crux of my argument and bemusement with this “system”). I don’t think this “healthy” competition with comparable lap times on the same circuits and the anxiety of a young driver waiting to feast on the corpse of a driver run afoul of the ill-tempered Franz Tost is really a good thing in a team.

Folks, this is the former Minardi team! The employees and management deserve more than puttering around mid-field or worse as they sally forth yet again with the pedestrian pace of Sebastien and Jaime. They both have had two years (a year and a half for Jaime) to prove their metal and both have left the team wanting. If the team is proud of their programmatic efficiency by delivering the mother ship (Red Bull Racing) a champion in Vettel, I find it a bit confusing to carry on for a third year with a driver who has not placed the car in a better position than it deserves. One could argue that Alguersuari did a few times but that’s pushing it as well.

My solution? Revolve drivers on a yearly basis. Build the team for economies of scale that prevent unruly expenses on a year-in year-out basis and create a car that is predictable in which to asses drivers. The car doesn’t need to be the random element here, the driver does. Yes, they may not be leading the points or even mid-field but they will be using a stable car and testing the talent of young drivers. IF they don’t want to do that, then put some damn money behind the team, hire Timo Glock and go after Williams, Renault and Mercedes GP! That, of course, is just my opinion and subject to serious detail-lacking fallacy but it sounded good rattling around my head.

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