After this season, AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost will step down from his role, which he has held since 2005. Roksana Ćwik spoke to the Austrian before the Azerbaijan GP the day after the news of the changes at the head of the Faenza-based team was published.
Firstly, I would like to start with the breaking news that at the end of the year, you will leave the team. How will you sum up your whole career from 2005?
It was a fantastic time, and I am really thankful to Dietrich Mateschitz and to the Red Bull. They gave me the chance to become Team Principal in those days at Scuderia Toro Rosso. It was a very, very interesting and also challenging time. We built up the team in a very short period of time because when I started there, there were around 80 employees and then after a few years we had already around 200 and nowadays, we have around 500 people working for the team. It was especially interesting to develop young drivers from the Red Bull Driver Pool. There were really a couple of very high-skilled drivers, like Sebastian Vettel of course, and then Max Verstappen who won races and world championships, but there were also other drivers. They did a really good job, and it was interesting to work together with all these characters, but also to build up the team. We brought in many new people, and we built up different departments, and we also restructured the team. Then we made a new building, built up infrastructure, Formula 1 adjustable infrastructure. This was all over the time a very good period in my life and living in Italy was also fantastic. The Emilia-Romagna is one of the best areas in Italy to live in. People are very motivated, high skilled and they are Formula 1 enthusiastic. Therefore, it was I think the best period of my life.
You mentioned Sebastian Vettel during his whole career in F1 with Toro Rosso. It was Verstappen, Vettel, Sainz and plenty of other drivers who are still here in F1. Can you say that you are proud of them?
It's not me, it's the team. The team did a fantastic job educating these drivers, supporting them, helping them, advising them. The engineers did a really good job and in the end the result was quite positive.
We are sometimes referring to AlphaTauri as a team B to Red Bull. Are you sometimes angry about it because it's a normal team, and you are on your own?
We are on our own, but we must not forget that we have the same owner. It was always clear that Red Bull wants us A – to use the synergies with Red Bull Racing and B – to educate young drivers. Red Bull Racing is currently the fastest team in Formula 1, and then it's a good possibility for us to get parts from them and to work very close together. Because it helps us to improve our performance.
What was the most difficult time in F1 from the beginning until now? For you and for the team?
There was not any really difficult moment. You know F1, or let me say how it was with us in the team, it's a continuing process where you have to come up with solutions and with the best possible scenarios every day. It's not fortunately up to now, we didn't have one very difficult moment, a crucial moment. No, it was always all the different scenarios under control, and therefore it was not so difficult to handle it in the correct way.
You have also a very nice moments with Pierre Gasly and Sebastian Vettel who won the races. How does it feel to be on the podium in the first place with AlphaTauri or Toro Rosso?
This is a highlight for every team to win a race, and especially for Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2008. It was the first victory of the team, and it was also in Italy, it was our home race. And then to have Vettel on the podium was really a highlight for the complete team. And the second one with Scuderia AlphaTauri, with Pierre Gasly, this was a big and a positive surprise for all of us, and it was the result of the hard work which the team did during the last years and the team deserved it quite well.
You are very honest, almost like Günther Steiner. Does it help in F1 to be so honest and to share opinions like the one from the beginning of the year that you don't trust your engineers? It was a hard one.
Let me say it in this way. In Formula 1 you see every race weekend the results and there is one very objective measure possibility which you can't manipulate and that's the stopwatch. And if the stopwatch doesn't show a good time, then you have to think about what's the reason for this. And we were struggling at the beginning, I hope it's the past tense now, we will see what's going on here in Baku with our performance. I said in principle we can't say everything is fine, everything is okay if we are not performing on the level which our partners and we as a team expect. And the birding then is another story apart, I was simply not satisfied with the performance, and this is what I said.
Orlen is now the part of the team, how helpful is to have them in the team?
Orlen is a big company, very well known all over the world and to have such partners in the team is always a big gain for any team, and we are really very proud to work together with Orlen, and therefore I hope that we will have good results. Especially I take care of our partners and if we don't perform well, I also feel bad for the partners because they expect a good performance, and this is what we are pushing very hard to improve the performance of the car. And I hope that we can provide Orlen with all the results and expectations that they have put into our team.
AlphaTauri, Red Bull and Orlen - all of you have your own young drivers. Are there any plans for this year regarding this? I know I asked the same question in Bahrain, but has something changed in that topic?
Orlen is a partner of ours and if there is a really good driver, then we will look to him. First of all, we must get an overview of the Orlen drivers, and in the end it's always a decision from the driver itself because if he performs well, then the doors are opening. And the season has just started in all the different categories, whether it's Formula 3, Formula 4 where these drivers are in there or in karting. And during the season and at the end of the season we will then see how their performance was, and then further steps will be discussed with Orlen.
What is your opinion about the budget cap?
The budget cap is good for Formula 1 because otherwise the teams would spend even more money. Now the teams have to be more disciplined in spending the money and I think this is a very important step for the future. We are now in Formula 1 in a very good situation that all the races are very well visited, the grandstands are full, the partners want to be involved in Formula 1. We have a fantastic show but nevertheless we always must take care of the costs and the cost cap helps to reduce the costs. Anyway, we are talking about a high amount of money, it's not peanuts. And this also is a learning process for the teams to be disciplined with spending the money, for example on the upgrades. We sit together every Tuesday with our technical director, with the finance department, where we discuss how many upgrades can we afford, how we can do it with the cost cap and that's good. Sometimes you have to cancel an upgrade because you can't afford anymore; otherwise teams would spend endless money.
Don't you think it's a little bit unfair that the little team has less money than the bigger one?
Not everything is included in the budget cap but regarding the performance of the car and the different development steps of the car, it's for all the teams the same and if some teams have more money on the marketing side, they will spend it. But they can't spend so much money as you could spend on developing the car, this is the most expensive part of it. I must say that the solution currently is quite fair for all the teams. The smaller teams have to improve their infrastructure because the three, four big teams they spend before the cost cap are a lot of money to build up a fantastic infrastructure and this is what we see now. Smaller teams suffer because they don't have this infrastructure, but they have the capex, the possibility within the cost cap to improve also their infrastructure.
We were talking about the drivers, one of them is out of the front, it's Daniel Ricciardo. Do you feel sad that he is sitting at home without any seat this year?
You know, any driver like Daniel Ricciardo who is fast, who is very sympathetic, who is a nice guy, you would like to see in Formula 1. But that's the part of life, you know. Once you are getting old, or you have to slow as a driver or any other reasons, you have to stop. That's the normal process in any kind of sport, Formula 1 is not different there. Cars are very, very fast and young drivers are coming, they are very high skilled and the teams sometimes prefer to work with a young driver.
Did you expect when Max Verstappen came to F1 that he would be so fast and so ambitious?
When I saw him, you know, I saw Max Verstappen riding karting and in Formula 3 and when he did the first test with us in Adria, you could see that he immediately got familiar with the car. And I never had a doubt that from the speed that he could not do it. He was from the beginning onwards very fast; he had a good car control, and I was confident that he will become very successful in Formula 1. In those days, I didn't know how many races he will win or how many championships he will win, but because to achieve this you have to be at the correct time in the correct car, which is the case with him because Red Bull Racing is the best team currently in Formula 1. But in those days I didn't know how many championships he will win, but I knew that he will be very fast and successful.
And the last two questions. What do you think about the new format? Because some of our readers wrote it's a little bit risky. We have now sprints in MotoGP and after the first race we almost lost four or five drivers. I know it's not the same, MotoGP and F1, but don't you think that in F1 it's a little bit too risky to have a sprint and then another race the next day?
Formula 1 is entertainment and what FOM and FIA want to create is an exciting, interesting race weekend. The old format was that we had three practice sessions and then the qualifying and then the race. Now we thought maybe it's better if we have nearly every session a highlight, which means we have FP1. This is important that the drivers learn the track, the circumstances and the grip out on the track. Then we already have the qualifying for the race, then we have the sprint qualifying and we have the sprint race. And on Sunday we have the race. That means for the spectators it must be very interesting because every session includes a highlight for the race weekend. For us, it's a disadvantage because we have young drivers and, for example, Nyck de Vries has only FP1, and then he has to go already into the qualifying. The same for Yuki, but Yuki raced already here in Formula 1. For rookie drivers, it's for sure a disadvantage, but nevertheless we will see now how it works. It's a big challenge for the drivers, it's a big challenge for the teams because you must not have any error because otherwise you are at the back of the field. That's a big, big challenge for everyone.
And the last question, can you tell us what you will do? I know the role after this year, but do you have any details which you can share with us?
No, this is not decided yet. I will sit together then with Minslav and to discuss it. They want me to stay as a consultant, but we will see, it's not decided yet.
Thank you so much, it was a pleasure.
Thank you. Now I have more time to come to Wroclaw, which is a very nice city, I like to be there.
It's good to know. Wroclaw is very nice.
You know Wroclaw?
Yes. The centre of the city is beautiful.
I was also in Poznań at the Tor Poznan...