2017 review: STR fades after strong start

2017 review: STR fades after strong start

14 December 2017 – GPUpdate.net continues its end-of-season review by reflecting on Toro Rosso's campaign, which unravelled through the final events amid Renault issues, heightened by the loss of Carlos Sainz Jr.'s services.

Toro Rosso: 6/10
Championship: 7th
WCC points: 53
Best race: 4th (1 x SAI)
Best qualifying: 6th (1 x SAI)
Fastest laps: 0
Qualifying duel: SAI 8 - 6 KVY, SAI 2 - 0 GAS, KVY 1 - 0 HAR, GAS 1 - 1 HAR


Toro Rosso launched its 2017 campaign with two feisty youngsters, a tidy package, the hope of improved power units and a sumptuously eye-catching livery, prompting hope that its long-awaited ambition of fifth could be realised. Mid-season, its prospects were strong, but Williams pulled clear, and a late-season collapse wrecked its hopes of even clinging to sixth. Much of Toro Rosso's campaign depended on the fortunes of Sainz Jr., with Daniil Kvyat getting stuck in a rut, and Pierre Gasly/Brendon Hartley stymied by inexperience and engine setbacks, both in terms of performance and reliability. Toro Rosso was overhauled in the standings by the improving Renault and on-track by the recovering McLaren-Honda, the latter's gains at least providing some hope for 2018, when Red Bull's junior team will have exclusive use of the manufacturer's powertrains. The STR12 was a solid midfield car, albeit its true potential only displayed when Sainz Jr. was on form. Seventh, for a fourth straight year, was indicative of where Toro Rosso stood – though it may aspire to such heights in 2018, with the switch to Honda…

Carlos Sainz Jr.: 8/10
Championship: 9th
WDC points: 54 (48 of which were for STR)
Best R result: 4th (1x)
Best Q result: 6th (1x)


Sainz Jr. started higher than 10th on only two occasions during his Toro Rosso phase in 2017, but finished there seven times, indicating how his Sundays were superior to Saturdays. Toro Rosso's mid-grid one-lap pace led to Sainz Jr. adopting a more aggressive approach in race trim than previous years, a tactic he admitted resulted in a couple more incidents than ideal (silly errors in Bahrain, Canada, Japan spring to mind), but for the most part he was exceptional, in turn lessening the negative impact of his mistakes. His slick tyre gamble in China paid off, weekend-long display on home soil superb, and drive in Hungary measured. In Singapore, he grabbed an opportunity when it arose, avoiding early drama before astutely defending his position. His qualifying lap in Monaco was also excellent. Having clamoured for a better seat in 2018, prompting some reaction from Red Bull management, he duly received his wish, and his departure is undoubtedly Toro Rosso's loss.

High point: Superbly opportunistic drive to fourth in Singapore
Low point: Clumsy clash with Stroll after sole Q1 exit in Bahrain


Daniil Kvyat: 4/10
Championship: 19th
WDC points: 5
Best R result: 9th (2x)
Best Q result: 9th (2x)


Kvyat was afforded a stay of execution after his miserable conclusion to 2016, but his troubles continued into 2017, and by the time Red Bull swung the axe he trailed Sainz Jr. 48-4 in the points battle. Kvyat's one-lap performance was comparable to Sainz Jr., but in the race he was unable to make the required gains, or simply made errors. Successive first-lap clashes in Austria and Britain severely blunted his reputation, particularly having eliminated Max Verstappen and Sainz Jr. in the process. His mistake in the damp in Singapore, while running close to Sainz Jr., proved the final straw for Red Bull, and his return for Austin was solely through a lack of viable alternatives. Ironically, it proved to be his best race of the season. In a car capable of regularly competing for points, Kvyat scored as many as a Sauber driver. Even accounting for a handful of technical setbacks, and Sergio Pérez's assault in Monaco, it simply was not good enough.

High point: Steely recovery to ninth in Spain
Low point: Being dropped after Singapore


Pierre Gasly: 6/10
Championship: 21st
WDC points: 0
Best R result: 12th (1x)
Best Q result: 15th (1x)


Despite winning the GP2 Series title, Gasly was overlooked for 2017 in favour of Kvyat and dispatched to compete for Honda in Super Formula, alongside his Red Bull reserve duties. After a competent start, Gasly surged into title contention, despite Honda's inferiority to Toyota, and the obvious cultural/lingual setbacks. Having grown weary of Kvyat, Toro Rosso handed Gasly his debut, and he performed well amid a lack of experience. Skipping Austin for the Super Formula finale was ultimately a case of serious misfortune, for the arrival of a typhoon caused the title showdown to be cancelled, and the final few Formula 1 rounds were compromised by power unit issues and setbacks. Gasly entered the Mexico race with just 12 laps under his belt across practice and qualifying – hardly ideal preparation. A messy Abu Dhabi race, after illness, somewhat blotted his copybook, but with Honda experience, and a 2018 contract, he can head into next year in a positive frame of mind.

High point: Getting the call-up for Malaysian F1 debut
Low point: Travelling to the SF finale for a few laps in the rain


Brendon Hartley: 6/10
Championship: 23rd
WDC points: 0
Best R result: 13th (1x)
Best Q result: 15th (2x)


Hartley's acquisition by Toro Rosso was one of the feel-good stories of the year, his Formula 1 debut coming seven years after he was initially dropped by Red Bull. Hartley, seeking a drive for 2018 after Porsche binned its LMP1 programme, made a phone call to Helmut Marko, from where he sampled Toro Rosso's simulator, before being drafted in to race in Austin. Considering Hartley's absence from a single-seater, lack of Formula 1 experience, and constant flip-flopping between machinery, he performed well. All four of his races were compromised by grid penalties, with two truncated by engine failures, but he used the opportunity to soak up information for 2018. Having completed a Lazarus-type comeback to triumph at the Le Mans 24 Hours, and captured a full-time Formula 1 ride, 2017 must surely go down as an eventful one for Hartley.

High point: Unexpected comeback to triumph at Le Mans
Low point: Repeated engine penalties during F1 spell


Statistics
Average qualifying gap: 0.129s to Sainz Jr.* (against Kvyat), 0.454s to Sainz Jr. (against Gasly), 0.343s to Gasly (against Hartley)**
Biggest qualifying gap: 1.013s to Kvyat in Britain***
Smallest qualifying gap: 0.020s to Sainz Jr. in Russia
Average qualifying result: Sainz Jr. 11.94****, Kvyat 12.67, Hartley 17, Gasly 17.2

*Three events omitted due to car issues
**One event omitted due to car issues

**Sainz Jr. had rear-suspension issue, next largest gap was 0.816s to Kvyat (vs Hartley) in the USA
***Encompasses Sainz Jr.'s 16 events with STR, four rounds with Renault excluded


Retirements:
Sainz Jr.: 6
Kvyat: 4
Hartley: 2
Gasly: 0


Race head-to-head: Sainz Jr. 6 - 0 Kvyat, Kvyat 1 - 0 Hartley, Hartley 1 - 0 Gasly


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