From North America to South America, from Mexico City to Sao Paulo: a change of continent, but no change of fortune for Scuderia Toro Rosso. We knew before our STR12s had even turned a wheel on Friday that we would be contending with grid penalties.
When you are faced with that situation, as professionals, all you can do is get on with your work and deal with whatever comes your way. But on Friday, that meant more engine related issues and very few laps. While Brendon Hartley already had plenty of Interlagos miles under his belt having raced here in the WEC series, Pierre Gasly was tackling this tricky little circuit for the very first time.
On the subject of WEC, Brendon arrived in Sao Paulo as the newly crowned 2017 champion in that category, having taken his second title in three years by finishing third in the Shanghai Six Hours the previous weekend. This led to an unusual statistic in Brazil on Friday, because with George Russell being given a run by Force India during FP1 and Charles Leclerc driving the Sauber in that session, it meant that the current champions of four series, Formula 1, WEC, F2 and GP3, were all on track at the same time.
When you know you have penalties coming your way, you take a different approach to qualifying and although Brendon made it through to Q2 on Saturday afternoon, he didn’t go out on track to set a time, as it made more sense to save new tyres for the race. As for Pierre, he spent most of Free Practice 2 and 3 doing long run work, as he continued to familiarise himself with the track and therefore we headed into the Sao Paulo traffic on Saturday night knowing our drivers would be facing an equally tough time in terms of traffic, to try and move up the order from the back of the grid on Sunday. But before then, Saturday night was the occasion of our annual dinner for the entire team and naturally, being in Brazil, we went to a churasqueria and ate far too much delicious meat (apart from Pierre and Brendon of course!)
When the lights went out on one of the most atmospheric grids of the year, with the cars competing to make themselves heard above the roar of the passionate Paulista fans, Pierre decided the best way to deal with that previously mentioned traffic was to get ahead of it immediately, passing at least four cars in the first couple of corners. Then, in the ensuing chaos and safety car period, the Frenchman found himself running tenth, with Brendon just two places behind him! Not bad from the back row of the grid. Our New Zealander had to try and remember all the Safety Car procedures, as his radio link was unplugged for a while and he couldn’t get any advice from the pit wall. He managed that, but unfortunately, heavy oil consumption meant he had to retire the car. Pierre went on to finish twelfth and he reckoned it was the best performance out of the four Grands Prix in which he has driven so far.
We are all back in Faenza now – Brrrr! No one warned us how cold it’s got in Europe while we’ve been away. We will all be working flat out to be as well prepared as possible for the final round in Abu Dhabi on 26 November, because we really want to stay sixth in the Constructors’ classification. Currently we have 4 points in hand over Renault and are 6 ahead of Haas. Our drivers have got plenty to keep them busy in the meantime, with Pierre heading off to our simulator next week. No doubt memories of last year in Abu Dhabi will come flooding back as it was there that he clinched the 2016 GP2 crown with a win in the feature race. As for Brendon, he’s had just one day at home in Monaco and now he is heading off to Bahrain for the WEC race at the Sakhir circuit this weekend. At least he won’t have far to come from there to meet us at the Yas Marina circuit for our twentieth Grand Prix of the year.