New driver line-up at Toro Rosso
Toro Rosso has announced that Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne will drive for the team in 2012, replacing Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi.
Both drivers are part of the Red Bull Junior Driver programme, and Ricciardo drove for HRT in the latter half of 2011 as Red Bull wanted him to gain more race experience following a number of Friday practice appearances for its junior team. Ricciardo said that he had learnt a lot during his time with HRT but that his goal had always been a race seat with Toro Rosso.
"This is a really big deal for me and something I have wanted ever since I was driving for Toro Rosso on Friday mornings at the races in the first part of last season," Ricciardo said. "To be honest, I am still jumping up and down with excitement at the news. In the second half of 2011 I learned a lot from the people I worked with, racing in eleven grands prix and I want to thank them for the opportunity they gave me. I have to say that joining Scuderia Toro Rosso was always my real goal, so a big thank you to Red Bull for giving me this fantastic opportunity and now I can't wait to get to work once testing begins."
Vergne took part in two Friday practice sessions for Toro Rosso at the end of last season, but it was his performance in the Red Bull at the Young Driver Test that really caught the eye as he set the fastest time on all three days. Vergne said that the experience had made him feel ready to step in to a race seat.
"First of all, I must thank Red Bull for all their support so far and for believing I am ready to take on the ultimate challenge of racing in Formula 1," Vergne said. "Christmas has come early for me this year! Having driven for them a few times this year and also testing for Red Bull Racing in Abu Dhabi, I definitely feel ready to make the move, even if I know there is a big difference between testing and actually racing. I enjoyed working with the guys at Toro Rosso this year and I can't wait to be part of the team for real. Sitting on the grid in Melbourne next March cannot come soon enough."
Team principal Franz Tost said that having had both drivers work with the team within the last year would help them settle in quickly.
"I am pleased that we have been able to reach an early decision on our drivers for next year, because it means we can all give our full attention to 2012, without any distractions. Over the past year, both Daniel and Jean-Eric have proved their worth and I expect them to make a significant contribution to the team's performance next year.
"Daniel has the benefit of having actually raced in grands prix for much of this year, while Jean-Eric proved he could adapt quickly to the demands of driving a Formula 1 car. As they have both worked with the team and its engineers very recently, this should allow us to get up to speed right from the start of winter testing in a couple of months time."
Tost also defended the decision to axe Alguersuari and Buemi - with the former having particularly impressed in 2011 - saying that it was Toro Rosso's purpose to bring through the young drivers.
"I must also thank Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari for all their hard work over the past three seasons. They have delivered some excellent performances which have helped the team move forward and develop. We wish them well for the future. However, one has to remember that when Scuderia Toro Rosso was established in 2005, it was done so with the intention of providing a first step into Formula 1 for the youngsters in the Red Bull Junior Driver programme. It is therefore part of the team's culture to change its driver line-up from time to time in order to achieve this goal."