Scuderia Toro Rosso is the sister team of championship-winning Formula 1 team Red Bull Racing and is a stepping stone to develop drivers with potential for the senior team. Making its debut in 2006, Toro Rosso's first pole position, podium and race victory were clinched by Sebastian Vettel at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.
Driving for Toro Rosso this season are two new drivers — Jean-Eric Vergne, 22, from France and Daniel Ricciardo, 23, of Australia. So far, their first Formula 1 season has not been going according to what they hoped it would be — Vergne is in 17th place for the driver standings with eight points and Ricciardo is in 18th with six points.
Speaking to them at 1.00 am Singapore time on early Saturday morning (the drivers have to stay on European time hence they go to bed in the wee hours of the morning and wake up in the late afternoon), Ricciardo was chattier of the two. He had quite an interesting story to tell, sharing how he used to detest travelling and was perfectly happy staying in Australia, as well as how he hopes to experience riding a MotoGP bike one day.
He said, "I love Australia and living at home and I was never interested in going outside of it. I didn't love travelling so I wasn't really interested in living in Europe and having to travel every weekend across the world to race. I thought I didn't have the commitment for that but I was 16, I matured I grew up a bit and I completely switched my mentality. If I wasn't a race car driver, I don't think I would have travelled the world like I do now. In this environment you mature a lot more as you're always with older people."
Q: How did you feel when you first knew you were getting a Formula 1 drive?
Vergne: I remember the day — it was amazing. It was like Christmas come early. Since you were a kid you dream about driving in Formula 1 and when that day comes, it is fantastic. I didn't have much time to celebrate, and there is not much to celebrate anyway as it's a new job and you get to work directly and do your best.
Ricciardo: I was very excited. I was back in Australia so I was with my family and it was really nice. I was jumping up and down and I had a nice glass of champagne. It was my holiday, my rest in the season near Christmas and I was with friends and family so it was nice. As soon as I found out I just wanted to train and race already.
Q: How are you feeling about this season?
Vergne: The season is going pretty well I would say. I'm really happy to be here in Formula 1 with Toro Rosso and I am learning a lot. I'm a bit disappointed, as I hope to be in the points more often and at least have the opportunity to fight for the points.
Ricciardo: I feel pretty good. Before the season started, we were hoping to have more points at this point but we realised now that the competition has been very high this year and unfortunately we don't have the package to be fighting for the points. On the occasions we have been able to score, we have come very close.
Q: What were your expectations coming into the season?
Vergne: I didn't really have any as I didn't want to be super happy about something that has not been fantastic and I don't want to be disappointed if I am not doing how I expected. Therefore I try not to put any expectation on myself.
Ricciardo: I didn't really a target to finish in the top five or get on the podium. I basically said to myself I want to achieve what the car is able to achieve. So if its 15th place I want to make sure I arrive at 15th. If its fifth place, I want to make sure I get fifth. Basically, it's always about getting the maximum out of the car, which I think I have done more times than not. I would love to have more points, but I didn't set a number because it's so unpredictable.
Q: What are some challenges that you face?
Vergne: Qualifying — since the beginning of the year, it has been a bit tricky. However, I've been improving race after race and it is getting better now.
Ricciardo: It's a sport driven a lot by technology and it's not like tennis or golf where it's just you and the racket. It's not so simple all the time. When you lose a tennis match, you can't really blame your racket as you probably lost because you didn't play better that day.
In motor racing, there are many more factors and sometimes it's frustrating when you feel like you did your best but something let you down or another driver crashed into you. It's never as crystal clear as other sports, which is frustrating sometimes. But when you get it right and you succeed doing it, it feels very, very sweet.
Q: Do you watch what you eat?
Vergne: As a driver we are doing a lot of sports and we have a normal life but we are careful of what we eat and what we do. In a race week we don't drink alcohol and we go to bed early.
Ricciardo: Yup, yup. Normally after a race if I lose a lot of weight because of the heat, like here in Singapore for example, then I can probably eat what I want. But normally up to the race and general week to week I'm taking good care. I like ice cream but other than that I'm eating quite well.
Q: How important is it to start racing from young?
Vergne: (started karting at the age of four at his father's karting circuit in France) I think it is important to build your knowledge about racing as well as starting a new experience from a young age.
Ricciardo: These days we are starting much younger and some people arrive in Formula 1 at 20 years old. If you are planning to reach Formula 1 and you start racing at 16, it might be too late because by the time you understand and become really good, you might be 25 already and not many people would look at you as you seem to be old. I started at nine and I think 12 would be the latest age to start.
Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at www.cheryl-tay.com.