Q: As always, at the beginning of the year, please sum up the key factors of this upcoming 2019 Season
FT: I could summarize them in three main points: The team, the car, and the drivers.
The aim is to always improve in order to compete at the highest possible level and this winter we have worked intensively to bring a few organizational changes, which we hope will help smooth a few issues we experienced in the past. We have analysed all the internal procedures in order to optimize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. Compared to other teams, Toro Rosso count on a smaller number of people, but the synergies with Red Bull Technology for the non-listed parts, now that Aston Martin Red Bull Racing will also be equipped with the Honda Engine, will leave more time for our technical working groups to focus more on the details. Attention to detail makes the difference and this translates to more performance.
Q: Now that AMRBR will be equipped with the same engine, Honda, there will be the possibility to realize the synergies project which Red Bull has always striven for. Can you explain in further detail what the synergies project refers to and which advantages you see?
FT: Mateschitz decided to buy our team with the idea to educate young drivers from the Red Bull Driver pool and to use one technology centre to supply expertise and parts for two teams. And actually, this is the philosophy we followed until 2010 when the other competitors in the Championship voted for a rule change, which put an end to the project. Following this decision, Scuderia Toro Rosso was forced to create the necessary infrastructures to become a manufacturer team, capable of designing all parts in house. We had to hire many more people and, from around 100 employees at the time, we can now count approximately 400 people, split between the factories in Faenza and Bicester (300/100). The Synergies project will allow us to aim for a step in performance without increasing the number of people; we will buy some parts and have more minds and hands to design and produce all the others.
Q: Does this mean that Red Bull Technology will provide Scuderia Toro Rosso with exactly the same specifications used from Aston Martin Red Bull Racing this season?
FT: Components relative to the power unit will be the same specification as Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, to be used within the regulations. Most of the remaining parts we receive from Red Bull Technology will be last year's specifications. Scuderia Toro Rosso, being a smaller team, could not follow the fast development and production process a bigger team can afford, especially considering that the release of the technical drawing could, for whatever reason, be delayed or delivered last minute.
Q: So, talking about the car, you see the STR14 as a step forward...
FT: I do. We have very good technical people to follow the in-house design, and the reliability of last year's synergy project parts will put us in a more favourable situation to develop quicker during the season.
Q: An important element of the car is the engine. How would you assess the progress Honda made during 2018 and what do you expect from them this year?
FT: It's been a great decision to move to Honda last year and, despite it being year one of what we hope will turn out to be a very long relationship, the cooperation with them has been amazing. If there's something you can't buy in Formula 1, it's time, and the step forward they made in just one year reflects the enormous commitment they put in the project with us. The confidence that also Aston Martin Red Bull Racing has agreed to be supplied by them will give an additional boost to improve even further.
Q: And now the drivers: we will have Daniil Kvyat back in the team and the young Alex Albon making the step to Formula 1. Tell us why you think Daniil deserved another chance, and do you think Alex is a quick learner and can adapt quickly to an F1 car to deliver good results?
FT: I always say that a young driver needs two to three years to understand and deliver in the complicated world of F1, but Daniil showed his natural speed from the very beginning. When the contingency required his move to Red Bull Racing, it seemed that he could be ready for the challenge. He showed some very good performances but to perform under pressure is always a challenge, now we can say with hindsight it was just too early. He had to live through a difficult time when he joined us again in 2016 – it was psychologically tough, but no one has ever doubted his driving skills. I strongly believe he deserves another chance in Formula 1 and I feel the best is yet to come from his side. Having had time to mature as a person away from the races will help him show his undeniable capabilities on track, as well as supporting Alex in his development as a young driver. Alex will have a lot to learn, like any newcomer in Formula 1, but he certainly proved himself in the lower categories like European Formula 3, GP3 and especially in Formula 2, where he was able to win races. In the second half of last year's F2 Championship, he impressed with a lot of overtaking manoeuvres and that's what convinced us he is the right driver to get on board. With Daniil on the other side of the garage, he has an F1 experienced driver with whom he will be learning a lot from, along with the support of the team around him. Scuderia Toro Rosso is very much looking forward to 2019, as with Daniil and Alex we have two young and competitive drivers.
Q: Having said all this, what are your expectations for 2019?
FT: In regards to our performance, as is always the case before the start of a season, it's too early to say and we don't want to set a specific target – at least not now. All things considered, the quality of the synergies with Red Bull Technology, the belief in our very high level of in-house technical knowledge, the impressive development trajectory Honda has shown so far, and the couple of strong young drivers we have available make me feel confident we will put ourselves in a strong midfield position in the Championship.