83 days; that’s how long it had been since a Toro Rosso car ran on track, taking part in the post-2015 season Pirelli tyre test at the Abu Dhabi Circuit to yesterday’s first day of pre-2016 testing. It would be an understatement therefore to say there was buzz of excitement around the Catalunya circuit, as the first of eight days of pre-season testing got underway on a damp track yesterday morning.
The Toro Rosso crew got straight down to work, with no “launch” or photocall prior to the track opening at 9am. With the car running for all four days this week in its smart but plain blue colours, the official 2016 livery for the STR11 will be unveiled to the media on the first day of the second test. At 8.15 on the morning of Tuesday 1st March, our two drivers will pull the wraps off the car at the entrance to the Catalunya circuit pit lane.
11 is clearly an important number this year as it’s the designation of our 2016 car, as well as our #STR11outoftheblue hashtag and also there are 11 drivers out on track representing 11 Formula 1 teams. We welcome the American-funded Haas team to the paddock, the first new arrival since three new teams made it to the grid in 2010.
Last year at this time, our two rookies were making all the headlines, but yesterday, Carlos Sainz was at the wheel of the STR11 as a “veteran” of one season, but there were new names to get the hang of. Pascal Wehrlein made his first appearance as a Formula 1 driver in the Manor and Force India put their brand new test driver, Alfonso Celis in the car for the first day. There are two returnees, as Kevin Magnussen is back in the paddock, driving for Renault and Esteban Gutierrez is on the Haas roll call.
There is a back-to-school feel to this week and there’s fun to be had spotting drivers in their new race suits and mechanics who have switched teams. Yesterday, while Carlos was busy in our smart blue-liveried car, team-mate Max Verstappen was a keen observer of everything going on in the garage and on-track. He accompanied our team boss, Franz Tost as they both headed out to actually watch the cars at various corners around the Catalunya circuit, a habit unique to Franz among team principals as far as we know! Today was a mirror image of Monday, in that Max was in the cockpit with Carlos watching the action, heading out to a few corners with Dr. Helmut Marko after the lunch break.
It’s interesting to note that, for both our drivers, their rise to Formula 1 has been so meteoric that this is the first time they start a second season in the same category! Max, but especially Carlos, given we are in Spain, have been in much demand from fans, autograph hunters and selfie-takers, so that getting across the paddock from the team truck to the catering area always takes longer than planned.
The biggest change in the Toro Rosso garage is the return of the Ferrari engine technicians and in all honesty, despite the two year break since we last worked with the Maranello men, it all feels very normal and routine – in a good way!