How Tost built Toro Rosso

Usually at this time of year, Franz Tost would be setting some tough – impossible, even – targets for Red Bull’s second Formula 1 team. Instead, he’s enjoying the early days of his retirement, having stepped down as team principal of what was called AlphaTauri at the end of last year. In an era of megastar bosses with almost as much star power as the drivers they employ, Tost was an old-school throwback who shunned the limelight, but whose role in making an operation that could so easily have been an afterthought credible in F1 can’t be underestimated.

A workaholic for whom the concept of work/life balance was an alien one, often to the understandable frustration of some of his employees, Tost is a straight-talking, no-nonsense Austrian from a similar mold to the one that produced Niki Lauda and Helmut Marko. That made him an anachronism in modern F1, earning him a reputation as a hard taskmaster who would happily subject his team to 50 grand prix weekends a year. As Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur joked recently when concerns about a 24-race schedule were put to him and he suggested it could be handled, “I don’t want to be the new Franz Tost”.

Tost’s motorsport career is an extraordinary one, with a long and winding path to the moment Dietrich Mateschitz charged him with running what was initially called Toro Rosso after Red Bull rescued Minardi from oblivion in late 2005. Tost was initially a racing driver, one good enough to win the Austrian Formula Ford championship then race in German F3 – he dismisses his exploits as “rolling around” – before recognizing his true talents lay elsewhere.


“You can’t plan to become a Formula 1 team principal,” Tost tells RACER. “Special circumstances came together and I was in the lucky position that Dietrich Mateschitz wanted to have me as team principal. It was an unbelievable and fantastic time that I worked with him, and also to get to know him as a person. I will always be thankful for this.

“Of course, there is the satisfaction that I could turn my hobby to my job. I always said when I was in school ‘I will work in motorsport’, and in the end it was in Formula 1. But I went through nearly everything: Formula Ford, driving myself, Formula 3, but all rolling around, being a team manager in Formula Ford, Formula 3, Opel Lotus then in Porsche [Cup] when Walter Lechner was driving. Then being in Japan with Ralf [Schumacher] and Super GT was very interesting – working with Willi Weber. I learned a lot from him because I worked as a team manager in his Formula 3 team and then in his [management] company. I learned a lot about merchandising, about contracts and all this kind of stuff.

“When Mario Theissen and Gerhard Berger asked me to come to BMW [in F1] I said ‘what should I do at BMW? I am not an engineer, I’m coming from another side’. I said to Willi that BMW said I should go there. He said ‘no, you should come with me’. I said ‘Willi, I promised Gerhard I will be there just two or three months, just to recognize I am the wrong person there and I will come back’. I ended up spending five years there, and this was also a very interesting experience because I understood the first time that marketing people have a completely different way of thinking to engineers. To build up the team was a very exciting period.”

Tost’s prosaic explanation of his journey from driver to team manager to driver manager to track operations manager for BMW in F1 is typical of the man. He doesn’t self-aggrandize or myth-make, simply staking the basic facts and stressing the opportunities for learning. He recognizes the value of that pathway when the call came to take the helm at Toro Rosso.

Toro Rosso rose from the ashes of Minardi after the 2005 season when Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley convinced Red Bull’s Dietrich Mateschitz to buy a second team and maintain Formula 1’s car count. Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images

“I think November 8th 2005 was the first time I went to Faenza,” says Tost. “Before, Dietrich Mateschitz called me and said ‘you have to take control of this team’. The reason he bought the team was a) to educate young drivers and bring them to Formula 1 and b) to use synergies.

“The Minardi team was bankrupt and Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley requested he buy the team. Mateschitz said he already had a team because he’d just bought Jaguar, but they needed cars on the grid. He didn’t want to build up a second infrastructure so he told them he would but they have to use synergies with Red Bull Racing. That’s how everything started.

“When I arrived, it was more or less a race team. There were 85 people and no infrastructure for doing something in-house because Minardi got everything from their suppliers. I saw immediately that we have to build up the team and make the infrastructure better. In 2006, we started with an identical car to Red Bull in 2005 with the V10 Cosworth engine, which we were allowed to run with an air restrictor.”

Despite F1’s switch to V8 engines in ’06, the exemption to run a V10 with a 77mm air restrictor and with the revs limited to 16,700rpm had been granted when Minardi was still under the ownership of Paul Stoddart. When Red Bull took it over, there was pushback amid genuine fears that the financial boost of Red Bull ownership and engine performance would allow Toro Rosso to be a threat. As Tost recalls, “they said we will win everything because the car has much more power, especially at lower revs”.

Those fears proved wide of the mark and Toro Rosso scored just one point, finishing ninth (of 11) in the championship. The template was set with rookie Scott Speed and Vitantonio Liuzzi, who had four starts under his belt before the season, as its first driver line-up. As Toro Rosso was effectively an ‘academy’ team, at least until recent years, and always the poor relation compared to Red Bull Racing, it would have been easy to drift.

“We were always pushing to get the most out of it, we never saw ourselves as the second team – we saw ourselves as an F1 team with the target to educate young drivers,” says Tost. “Yes, most of the time we finished seventh in the constructors’ championship, which was not what I expected, I wanted to be better. But also in the future, don’t see this as a second team. It’s working independently, using all the synergies possible.”

Toro Rosso was able to use Red Bull’s hand-me-down machinery in those early years; using the same chassis as Red Bull Racing after 2005 rather than being a year behind. Remarkably, in 2008 it was Toro Rosso that claimed the first victory for a Red Bull design in F1 through Sebastian Vettel’s famous victory at Monza. That was a Ferrari-powered adaptation of a car conceived around the Renault engine, but not only did it dominate that day in Italy, but also finished sixth in the constructors’ championship, one place ahead of the main team. Adrian Newey has since admitted there was a little embarrassment that the second team had taken that first win, albeit offset by satisfaction that Red Bull Racing had designed a winning car, but Tost insists he didn’t revel in beating the mothership.

While Toro Rosso was Red Bull’s junior team, it earned the first Red Bull-aligned Formula 1 victory ever when Sebastian Vettel triumphed at a soggy Monza in 2008. Andrew Ferraro/Motorsport Images

“I’m not the kind of person to get satisfaction out of beating Red Bull Technology, because first of all we got everything from them,” says Tost. “Second, with Sebastian Vettel we had a fantastic driver and his performance was much better than others. The satisfaction came because we were competitive, but not because we were in front of Red Bull. For me, it was important that the team was in the best possible place. This is what’s decisive. Who’s behind, I don’t care.”

There was a bigger challenge around the corner. F1’s regulations changed and from 2010 every team had to design their own car, meaning Toro Rosso had to build up fresh infrastructure. Tost recalls this as a difficult time, needing to recruit far more designers above the small group it already had as well as adding production and associated capabilities. The team was literally bursting at the seams, with personnel working out of containers and its ‘treehouse’ unit that was used at races, but when not at the track served as office space at Faenza.

Tost characterizes this as “a new project” and it could easily have derailed the team entirely. The storm was weathered and it fought on, but progress was stymied by regular engine changes that often left it running at odds with Red Bull, which made the push for synergies more difficult.

“It was not easy because, for example, sometimes we had to make the gearbox ourselves because we had another engine,” says Tost. “When we went to Honda [in 2018, a year before Red Bull Racing], you couldn’t take everything. It’s a question of wheelbase, of weight distribution. I remember with the exhaust system, Honda said we want to have the exhaust this way and we had to do many things by ourselves. But most of the time, we tried to get as many parts as possible from them.”

Where the team did more often diverge was in terms of the aerodynamic concept. While there are often accusations it ran Red Bull clones, that’s never been the case – at least, not since customer cars were outlawed. While there was commonality of some components, the team was able to pick and choose what parts it took to suit its concept and didn’t automatically grab everything from Red Bull. For example, its most competitive season was 2021 when the rebranded AlphaTauri was, on average performance, right up there in the battle for third best with McLaren and Ferrari. Yet despite the regulations allowing it to take the 2020-specification Red Bull rear suspension without having to spend the upgrade tokens used that year to control the changes, it was rejected. That’s because it wouldn’t have worked with the aerodynamic concept of the car. And aerodynamics, of course, are the key thing that you must design yourself.

“We had to do it by ourselves on the aerodynamic side, and aerodynamics are so complex,” says Tost. “To just build the same parts on the car sometimes doesn’t help you. You have to understand the philosophy that’s behind it, and we have to do it by ourselves because FIA is checking. For example, two days ago, they were in Bicester. They were in CFD to see how we come to our aero solutions. They want to see it in the windtunnel, and it’s not like Red Bull can say do it in this way or that way. No.

“We have to find out our own philosophy, and hopefully then the car works. I personally like the way we started [with customer cars] because this really was easier in every sense and we saved a lot of money and we were also successful. But that’s the way of Formula 1 – Formula 1 wants this, the FIA wants it, the teams want it. Therefore we have to accept it and go this direction.”

Red Bull ‘gives you wings’ in advertisements, but not necessarily in F1: Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri actually designed its own aero, although it did borrow other Red Bull bits. Tost stepped away from the team at a time when it is about to become more closely integrated with Red Bull than ever before.  Mark Sutton/Sutton Images

Tost leaves Red Bull’s second team at a point where the working relationship with Red Bull is becoming closer than ever. Later this year, its UK-based design and aerodynamics group will move into a building on the Red Bull campus in Milton Keynes, having vacated the two-building Bicester facility. That’s the next step from moving in to share Red Bull’s 60% windtunnel in Bedford ahead of the 2021 season after having previously used the old Red Bull tunnel in Bicester, which was the last remaining 50%-scale one in use in F1.

That’s leading to increased complaints from rival teams about unhealthy collaboration between the two Red Bull squads, with a push to further restrict what is and isn’t allowed. Such complaints have always flared up whenever a team closely aligned with a bigger operation has performed well, however some are now even pushing to outlaw any entity owning more than one team. But that’s a distant threat and a political battle Tost is spared.

Now, it’s down to new team principal Laurent Mekies, along with recently-appointed CEO Peter Bayer, to steer the ship while Tost enjoys what will inevitably be a busy retirement. It tells you everything you need to know about Tost that, while he’s confident in the team’s potential, he wasn’t happy with his final season.

“If I looked at the current position in the constructors’ championship, it would be better to be silent because it’s a joke,” says Tost, with the caveat that this interview was conducted when AlphaTauri was last in the standings before jumping to eighth late in 2023.

“But the time with this team in Faenza was fantastic, and I would not like to have missed it. There are really good people there, very passionate motorsport people and this is what I like. The team has a good structure, a good basis, but to make the next step forward some money must be invested to increase the infrastructure and bring in additional people.

“I know there is a cost cap, but it’s still a very small team and we are far below the cost cap, in 2023 around $10 million or something like this. To be competitive against the other teams, we have to invest and we have to bring in more people and we have to improve all our machines and simulation tools.”

The future for Red Bull’s second team is uncertain, and it has always been subject to the whims of its ownership and the swings in prevailing conditions in F1. But the fact a team that was bought almost accidentally to save it from oblivion is still on the grid and has won a couple of grands prix is partly down to the style and determination of Tost’s leadership.

Story originally appeared on Racer