Infiniti Red Bull Racing made an expected announcement a week ago as they announced Daniel Ricciardo as Sebastian Vettel’s team mate for the 2014 season. Ricciardo is going to keep the Australian flag high in the Austrian team as Mark Webber retires and makes his move to Porsche’s Le Mans project. There is still a question in the air to be answered: who will take Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso seat? During the team’s history, the drivers have been promoted from Red Bull’s own young driver project and there are plenty of young drivers in the Red Bull Driver Programme who would like to get the chance at Toro Rosso. Another question is Will Jean-Eric Vergne be able to continue with the team for another year. There are couple of drivers who would be ready for the seat, and in the future there are plenty of drivers who are looking for the chance to drive Toro Rosso.
A name who has been high on the rumors is 22 years old Portuguese driver Antonio Felix da Costa. Da Costa impressed by joining the Formula Renault 3.5 series midway of the 2012 season and managed to get strong results and he managed to win 4 of the last 5 races of the season. During the same year, da Costa was also racing in the GP3 series and was 3rd in the championship overall. The Portuguese also raced in the Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix and managed to win at the well respected Chinese street circuit. In 2013 he continues in Formula Renault 3.5 and is currently 5th on the championship calendar. Da Costa already has quite a lot of experience from various formula series and it will be an advantage for him, even though he hasn’t won any championship titles since winning the 2009 Formula Renault 2.0 North European Championship. Da Costa’s chances to be promoted to the Toro Rosso seat are very high, and if he manages to impress during the end of the season, he might be promoted for the seat. If da Costa doesn’t get promoted, the GP2 Series would be ideal series for him to continue his career.
Another name who has popped up on the rumors is the 21 year old Brazilian Felipe Nasr who is competing in the GP2 Series for second year and is fighting for the championship title. He isn’t part of the Red Bull Junior Team like Antonio Felix da Costa, but it wouldn’t be impossible for the Brazilian to compete for the Toro Rosso seat, as he is used to be sponsored by RedBull back in 2009. Nasr was having his first full season with formula cars as he joined the Formula BMW European Series and during the season the young Brazilian made a sponsorship with Red Bull, having his car painted with the Red Bull livery. It was an amazing year for Nasr as he won the championship and he was on the podium 14 times in 16 races. For 2010 Nasr joined the British Formula 3 and continued in the series in 2011 and won the championship title. He also won Sunoco challenge which gave him a chance to race at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 2012, finishing the race on 3rd position together with his team. Nasr has proven to be a very competitive, mature and intelligent driver and is certainly a good candidate for the available Toro Rosso seat. During the years Nasr has been a guy who learns fast and even though he is young, he has achieved a lot. Sponsorships won’t be a problem for the Brazilian as he has got many Brazilian sponsors who will be able to bring him forward on his career. Thanks to his sponsors he might be able to compete for a seat in other teams too, and certainly Nasr is an option for Toro Rosso if they want to sign a driver outside the programme. The history with Red Bull might help, and Nasr’s manager Steve Robertson certainly knows how to do his job. Nasr himself stated in a couple of interviews that right now he is focused in the GP2 season, and after that they will be looking at their future options.
There are also two Red Bull future names racing in the GP3 series: Carlos Sainz Jr, who is World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz’s son, and a Russian youngster Daniil Kvyat. Both youngsters have been part of the Red Bull Junior Team for 3 years now, and it seems to be that Red Bull will promote this duo for Toro Rosso in the near future. Both drivers still need one or two years of experience, but it looks like the duo will have a great chance.
Sainz’s career plans are looking very similar compared to Antonio Felix da Costa’s career. Sainz is now competing in the GP3 series, but the season hasn’t been on the expected lines. The Spanish youngster is 9th in the championship table, and he has more potential than his championship position. Sainz has been fighting for the top positions in various races, but the luck hasn’t been with him on various occasions. Even though the season has been worse than expected, Sainz already has already sorted out his plans, as he has confirmed to drive the 4 last races of the Formula Renault 3.5 season this year and will be driving a car with Red Bull livery. By joining the series in the end of the year, Sainz is preparing to do a full season in the series in 2014. If he does well in the FR 3.5, he might get a chance for a Toro Rosso seat in 2015 or 2016.
Daniil Kvyat is racing in the GP3 series together with Sainz and they are part of the same team, and know each other well. If Sainz’s season hasn’t been as great as expected, Kvyat is having a good season as the Russian has a great chance to be the series champion. He is only 7 points behind Facu Regalia who leads the championship while there is only one round left in Abu Dhabi in November. If Kvyat can win the GP3 championship, it will give a great boost for his career. Being Russian is also an advantage for him as the Formula 1 calendar is going to have a race in Russia, and a talented Russian driver in F1 would make the Russian viewers more interested in F1. It would be very smart from Dr. Helmut Marko and the company to promote Kvyat to Toro Rosso in the future.
With da Costa, Sainz Jr and Kvyat, there are also 3 more drivers in the Red Bull Junior Team: British Tom Blomqvist who competes in the Formula 3 European Series, South African Callan O’Keeffe and Dutch Beitske Visser who both compete in the ADAC Formel Masters. These drivers might be looking to make a move to the GP3 series in the future.
Apart from the Junior Team drivers, Are there more future names who have a chance for the Toro Rosso seat?
Right now it seems like Felipe Nasr is the only one outside the Junior Team who might be selected, but there are plenty of talented drivers who deserve a chance to show that they have a potential.
A good example is Dutch Robin Frijns who is now having a difficult time in his racing career. Frijns has won championship titles in European Formula BMW, Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and Formula Renault 3.5, and has been competing in the GP2 series this season and managed to win one race. Frijns made his GP2 debut in Bahrain, which was the second weekend of the season. Since his debut, his drive has been in doubt ahead of every race weekend, mainly because of the lack of sponsors. Before Hungary the news was announced that Frijns was going to be without a drive. He managed to make a short come back for the races in Belgium, but after that he was left out once again. Frijns was also a part of the Sauber team as a test driver, but as Sauber has financial issues, they are going to quit the partnership with Frijns by the end of the year. Money plays a big role, and if Frijns somehow had a chance to join the Red Bull Junior Team, he would be able to do a full season in GP2 and after that make a move into F1. Without Sauber’s difficulties, Frijns would have been a big candidate to have a race drive with the team in 2014.
The decision about the Toro Rosso drive will take time and it’s most likely to happen after the end of 2013 Formula 1 season. Will Toro Rosso have one or two new drivers for the 2014 season? Most likely we are going to see Antonio Felix da Costa or Felipe Nasr have the drive. Or even both of them
Written by: Sini Salminen