By Eurosport 6 March 2012 15:04
The unceremonious dumping of Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi made for some teeth-grinding headlines over the winter but it's fair to say that while both were reasonably consistent neither demonstrated signs of being a fledgling Sebastian Vettel.
In their place this year France's Jean-Eric Vergne and Aussie Daniel Ricciardo represent Red Bull's next set of junior drivers — and they are so closely matched and so determined that, providing a strong car development plan is in place, the team is expecting better things.
Vergne is an exciting prospect and having spent the whole of last year as wingman to Vettel and Mark Webber driving the Red Bull Racing simulator on every Grand Prix weekend, he is in a great position.
It's only 'virtual' but that experience of driving and developing the best car on the track in 2011 will stand him in good stead as he and Ricciardo vie for position.
What advantage Vergne may have in technical and set-up experience, however, Ricciardo has in actual racing, having competed in Grands Prix for HRT last season.
It may be a little unfair to say that the term 'racing' does not define accurately Ricciardo's experience at HRT, but the knowledge of how a Grand Prix weekend works will be a benefit at least in the early stages.
And all that adds up to perhaps the most intriguing team pairing on the grid this year.
It was a real rollercoaster ride last year, with Alguersuari and Buemi qualifying in the top ten and struggling in the race at one event, then missing Q2 but racing well to fight through the pack in the next.
This inconsistency was more likely down to car than driver, so the team needs to have ironed out this variability in this year's model.
Be that as it may, the overriding feeling coming into 2012 is one of positivity.
The team — which, remember, was once Minardi — firmly planted itself in the midfield last year and while that is still some way from the heady heights of 2008, when Vettel gave them a win, it has to be remembered that those were the days when Toro Rosso was, in essence, a Red Bull.
At the end of 2011, just three points separated the team from Sauber and 28 from Force India, a reduced gap to what it was in 2010 — so with the team going in the right direction, and two highly rated and fresh drivers to steer its course, there is genuine reason to be cheerful.
Nothing can be achieved without a good car, though, and as with all the teams it's a case of wait and see in terms of performance. In terms of design, however, the Toro Rosso is innovative with its 'double floor' sidepods, which clearly work as they are retained this year.
This is the third car designed and produced entirely by the Faenza squad, rather than taking drawings from Red Bull Technologies, and it should benefit from the year-on-year growth in resources and infrastructure that helped increase development rates last year.
The use of Ferrari engine, gearbox and KERS is the same as Sauber, one of the team's close rivals, but the installation appears neater at Toro Rosso, while the smart solution to the roll hoop also appears to be a step above the other midfield teams.
The key to this season in midfield, however, will be the pace of development. If their drivers can give them a good start it will put points on the board, but they will need to maintain the development levels of last year to get ahead in what should be a tight group.
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