We know that working in Formula 1 is seen as something glamorous and travelling the world doing something you love does has its upsides, but this weekend in China also highlighted just how tough of a job it can be.
Our mechanics had the busiest weekend of the season so far, with an engine change on Daniil’s car on Friday, followed by building up a whole car into a new monocoque for Alex after his frightening Saturday morning crash. There were some very long days and nights in the garage! Just getting the two STR14s onto the grid for Sunday was a major achievement, of which our guys can be proud. But they made it, to this one which was the one thousandth Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship race in the history of our sport! The giant paddock featured the number 1000 in huge letters on the ground and there were several displays of old F1 cars, driver suits, wonderful paintings, driver helmets from every era, engines and other memorabilia on display. This race was also the 250th Grand Prix in the history of Scuderia Toro Rosso, so celebrative stickers were well on display on the cars of our drivers, to mark both important milestones.
On track, our STR14 was competitive right from the get-go, looking very strong against our usual midfield opponents. Although, on Friday came a slight setback when we had to change the PU on Daniil’s car in between the two sessions, after the Honda engineers spotted an anomaly on the data. It’s a penalty free change of course at this stage of the year. The mechanics worked really quickly to get the change done in time to send him back out for the final half of the afternoon session. Franz Tost has often said that rookie drivers usually have, what he calls it, “an accident time” in the early stages of their F1 career and that it’s part of the learning process, but Alex’s crash in FP3 on Saturday morning was definitely bigger than most! The data recorders showed an impact of 26G. It meant he took no part in qualifying, so it was left to Daniil to fly solo on Saturday afternoon. Our Russian described the session as the best of the year and he came so close to getting into the top ten shootout, missing the cut by just 200th of a second.
Come Sunday afternoon, we had one crew on the grid with Kvyat and the other lining Albon up at the traffic lights in pit lane. Daniil’s race was compromised almost immediately, as he was involved in a collision with the McLaren pair at Turn 6. As a team, our policy is to always obey and respect the rulings of the Stewards during a race, but we were not alone in feeling that the drive-through penalty he was given was far too harsh, as Daniil had really nowhere to go in the opening lap melee. Despite the penalty, he kept pushing hard, setting good lap times even though his car was damaged, but eventually, we saw little point in keeping him on track in a less than perfect car, with no chance of points and, as the rules mean it’s important to save engine miles, we called him into the pits and retired him. Meanwhile, Alex took just five laps to go from pit lane to 15th place and gradually moved up the order, thanks to some aggressive passing moves on Giovinazzi and Magnussen among others. He is a rookie, it’s true, but thanks to his mature driving – still without forgetting only a few retirements – he was tenth in the closing stages, with another point in prospect. Eventually, after having strongly defended from a hard-charging Grosjean, who was on fresher rubber, our Thai driver managed to make it to the flag in tenth. Who knows, maybe his helmet helped – a tribute to Prince Bira, the last Thai driver to race in F1, who actually took part in the very first of the one thousand Grands Prix being celebrated on Sunday. “I’m happy to get driver of the day,” said Alex. “Saturday I was maybe worst driver of the day, so it was nice to come back strong on Sunday.”