‘Liberty is talking. Bernie just decided’: Franz Tost speaks to RaceFans

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Speaking to RaceFans in an exclusive interview at the Circuit de Catalunya this week, Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost urged Liberty Media to get a deal on the table for the 2021 F1 season, and explained how the new Red Bull-Honda partnership benefits his team.

Franz Tost is the second long-serving team principal in the pit lane after, saliently, Christian Horner, boss of sister team Red Bull Racing. Yet the man at the helm of Toro Rosso is, to many Formula 1 folk, an enigma. Tost and Horner’s records speak volumes about the respective abilities and tenacities of not only both men, and also of the massive faith Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has invested in them.

Mateschitz is not known for his patience – nor, for that matter, is his trusted motorsport lieutenant Helmut Marko – yet their F1 team executives, who collectively control entities turning over half a billion per annum, have out-lasted (and arguably out-performed, depending upon metrics), more than a few of the sport’s ‘names’.

Austrian Tost, 63, is a man steeped in motorsport. As a youngster he competed in Formula Ford and Formula Three while studying sport science and management, then switched to team management before being hired to manage the affairs of a budding Ralf Schumacher. When the German moved into F1, so did Tost.

When the driver moved to Williams, Tost joined before catching the eye of its Bavarian engine supplier BMW, which appointed him as F1 track operations manager. At the end of 2005 Mateschitz acquired the struggling Minardi team with a view to creating a finishing school for the more talented drivers on its books, and decided appointing Tost was a no-brainer given his CV.

[retrompuminardi01]On the first day of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya this week, after an open media session and some television commitment, Tost returned to the test hospitality unit for his first exclusive one-to-one. “You booked first, so you get the first slot,” the team’s media manager told me. His media session a few minutes earlier provides a starting point, but there’s much more I want to discuss.

Toro Rosso is arguably one of the teams mostly likely to benefit most from F1’s proposed budget cap, slated for introduction from 2021. The team’s structure and business model lends itself perfectly to restrictions on spend and parts sharing. Thus Tost is anxious to see cost controls introduced, and not just a watered-down process.

Are things happening quickly enough? “No,” is the succinct answer. This begs the further question: “Why?”

“It’s too slow. They should come up with decisions. We’re talking [for] a long time now and the technical regulations are not fixed yet, the sporting regulations are not fixed yet. We have this cost cap, money distribution, and all this kind of stuff. All the main pillars are still in discussion and Liberty Media has to come up now with decisions.”

In the absence of multi-party agreements that include teams in the post-2020 regulatory process, the governing body intends adhering to the FIA’s International Sporting Code clauses that require 18 months lead time for major regulations changes, without necessarily including teams in the process. How does Tost see the situation evolving?

Chase Carey, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
Liberty is running out of time to agree terms with teams
“The teams are still involved. There are technical working groups meetings, and so on. But once more, if I [were] at Liberty Media I wouldn’t involve the teams so much, because Liberty Media have the infrastructure to come up with rules. Ross Brawn, Pat Symonds and all the others are so experienced they know exactly what Formula One needs, they know exactly which direction to go.

“They just should decide ‘we should go for it’. If they continue asking the teams, they will never come up with a solution because every team will just look for their own advantage, and every team has their own agenda. And they can’t come up with a result.

“The governance is the next point which has to be finalised, but there is the Sporting Code, and the sporting regulations, that’s it.”

Is it practical to exclude the teams from the decision-making process?

“I don’t think that they will be completely excluded, that’s not necessary. But the FIA and Liberty have to come up with proper proposals and say ‘Look, this is the direction that we want to go’, and then of course there will be a discussion with the teams.

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“If part of the teams don’t agree, then [FIA/Liberty] have to decide. There will not be all teams which will not agree, there will always be some teams ‘yes’ and some teams ‘no’. If you get proposal with let me say 50 points, then maybe you feel ‘Ah, 10 points are bad for us but 40 points are OK for us’.”

Given that there are only four months remaining before deadline, could the regulation changes be pushed out a year?

Bernie Ecclestone, Yas Marina, 2018
Ecclestone’s style was more effective, says Tost
“No, I don’t think it’s possible because it’s not only the regulation changes, it’s also the money distribution, it’s the cost cap, it’s many things. And what does it change if you postpone it by one year? You just discuss another year in addition. If you can’t make a decision until now, why you should be able to make a decision one year later?”

I try a different tack; What is the main difference in this regard between Liberty and the man who previously controlled F1, Bernie Ecclestone?

“Liberty is discussing and talking. Bernie just decided.”

Which is the more effective?

“The decision one!”

According to a source, Liberty intends operating a ‘shadow’ budget cap during 2019, tracking team spend against notional caps. I fly a kite: Has he heard about the concept; if so, how does he see the concept?

“Yes, there are different models they are talking about, and the ideas are quite good. The rest we will see. We from Toro Rosso support them, if they want to know anything, we are open.

“We are absolutely open. If they want to see anything, if they want to know details, we show it to them.”

During the open session Tost suggested that there was space to grow the calendar; indeed, the implication of his comment was ‘the more the better’. Does he believe the F1 calendar can grow to, say, 25 races, and equally have a budget cap? After all, more races costs more money…

“But you get more money,” he argues. “Otherwise it doesn’t make sense. Look, one thing is clear: to increase the number of races only makes sense if you increase the revenues, for the teams as well. I hope this is clear, because otherwise you don’t need more races.”

“It must be clear: If we have more races, we need to have more revenues, otherwise we can’t afford it and otherwise it doesn’t make sense.”

Finally, how does Tost who, after all, has seen a variety of qualifying formats come and go during his 13 years as team boss, feel about mooted changes to the weekend format, which could possibly be introduced next year if Liberty’s plans to stagger the changes go to schedule.

He is, though, unfazed by the specifics: “[What’s] decisive is that we have interesting races,” he says.

“If the races are boring, you can have whatever weekend format you want to have. To have no Friday, to have only Saturday, Sunday – if [on] Sunday the race is boring, no one cares. We should be concentrated what really counts, and what really counts is that we have interesting races.

“To cancel Friday [activities], organisers are not too happy about this because they want to sell tickets also on Friday, they need it from the commercial point of view.

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“[But] for me these are secondary points. I personally don’t care whether we are here on the Saturday, Sunday, or whether we are here also on Friday. Because they think is to reduce the time being at the track by one day… I don’t think that this is a major topic which counts, because you have to send the mechanics, you have to send the people who build up the garage anyway earlier one, two days.

“Maybe you gain a day or whatever, but once more: We should be concentrated to come up with what really counts and that’s to come up with interesting races.”

Pierre Gasly, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
Red Bull’s Honda’s tie-up has implications for Toro Rosso
How much excitement with 2019 F1 season will produce could be strongly influenced by how competitive Red Bull are with their new Honda power unit. Tost believes they can win races this year, but why is he not making the same prediction for his own team?

“Because we have a completely different infrastructure,” he says realistically. you cannot compare Toro Rosso with Red Bull Racing or with Ferrari or with Mercedes

“These are teams that are operating with [budgets of up to] €500 million; we have less than a third of this budget, and are simply not in a position to compete against these top teams. This is also not the target of Toro Rosso. But I think, because of this co-operation with Red Bull Technology, that we can also improve our performance.”

So where does Toro Rosso now stands in this Red Bull-Honda constellation?

“I don’t talk about number one or number two, because we get the same hard[ware] and software from Honda. And as I mentioned already in the past I’m more than happy and confident that Red Bull [Racing] is running a Honda engine because then there are two teams, and it’s the Red Bull [brand] and overall it’s referred to as one company.

Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
Toro Rosso and Red Bull are sharing more parts this year
“This will help us to improve [our] performance. Last year was a build-up year for Honda as well as for us, and it was not an easy season, but we got everything together.”

Given Toro Rosso’s role as development platform for Red Bull’s drivers, can the same be said of Toro Rosso when it comes to engines? Will the team be expected to ‘carry the can’ on behalf of the senior team, particularly given its 2018 record of consuming more engines than any other team, allegedly in the name of ‘development’ for the future?

Tost rebuffs such insinuations immediately: “No, we are not a development team. Toro Rosso is a team on its own. What I always say and mention is ‘if there’s something from Honda’s side which has to be tested, which at the end will be integrated in the development progress, of course this is fine to do it’. But it’s not that we are their development team.

Now that Red Bull and Toro Rosso again share common power units, the plan is to share some non-listed parts (those that teams are not required to hold the intellectual property to) to save time and costs where feasible. Think the Ferrari-Haas model. What, then, will Toro Rosso source from Red Bull and its supplier Red Bull Technology?

“We have got from them the rear part of the car, which means the gearbox, the rear suspension, the hydraulic system, and that’s it. We could have had it last year, but they had another [Renault] engine.

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How’s that changed from the previous model?

“From last year to this year we have another gearbox, and we have another rear suspension, but the front end, the wishbones are Toro Rosso wishbones; the [car] internals are mixed with Red Bull.

Is it a one-way street, or do parts flow from Toro Rosso’s Faenza base to Milton Keynes? Do they take parts off you?

“No,” he says. “The parts which we get from them are being produced by them. The rest we do ourselves What we have from them, the gearbox, is [their] last year’s gearbox. A little bit [was] changed to mount the Honda engine. And the suspension is their last year’s suspension, not this year’s.”

Having lost technical director James Key – he moves to McLaren, start date to be confirmed shortly – what is the team’s technical structure now that Jody Egginton is the top engineering honcho?

Graham Watson, Jody Egginton, Toro Rosso, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
Egginton (right, with Graham Watson) leads the technical team
“We’ve got the deputy technical director [Egginton], and then we have the different departments downstream where all the persons are responsible for their departments. It’s the aero department, it’s mechanical design, and it’s bodywork design,” adding, “We have separate people responsible for manufacturing, because we have mechanical manufacturing, composite manufacturing, so this is different.

What, then, is the difference between the technical director and deputy technical director positions?

“The deputy technical director position is below technical director, and as James is not anymore with us [sooner] or later Jody Egginton will become technical director.” Then he adds, “We will see [when], we will see.”

This methodical approach is typical of Tost – as is the undimmed passion for racing which shone through in our interview.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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25 comments on “‘Liberty is talking. Bernie just decided’: Franz Tost speaks to RaceFans”

  1. Liberty intends operating a ‘shadow’ budget cap during 2019

    This sounds very interesting, and I look forward to more details as they emerge.

    1. Sounds a little shady, @phylyp. Bernie would approve.

  2. The fact that there’s a team leader that question Liberty publicly is enough evidence.

      1. @asanator Evidence of ineffectiveness leadership.

        1. The evidence I see is that it is because of BE’s way that Liberty has such a mess to clean up. That Liberty is doing so in a well thought out and deliberate manner for a change, and for the long term health and sustainability of the sport, is exactly what F1 needed after BE’s last 10 years of money grab and handing power to the top 4 teams, ie. letting the foxes run the hen house. Yeah that was a great decision BE made there all right.

          Meanwhile, Liberty will indeed be laying the plan out by June, after taking the necessary time to sort out what BE left them, and after creating a healthier atmosphere of inclusion of all teams to be on board as much as possible given their own personal preferences.

          1. I can accept that reason if Liberty can at least deliver the same result financially as BE. FOM spend more and share less now within the same regulation. They adding races but not the revenue. Liberty is ‘the commercial holder’.

            Also in this article Tost point out so many solid case that Liberty has inferior leadership like not having decisions that should be already been taken.

            If you can’t make a decision until now, why you should be able to make a decision one year later?

  3. I kind of agree with his ‘decide and not discuss’ comments BE had, to some degree.
    Bernie seemed to have a chat to the teams and see what they though they just decide.
    Liberty seem to be a little eager to still keep everyone happy- I hope this changes a little. Teams input is important but the boss has to make the decision.

    Having F1 teams (and not all of them) have their say on F1 regulations is insane- of course Red Bull don’t want a change in aero or Merc in PU regs. A lot of this now is with Ross Brawn, Liberty needs to decide where they want F1 to go (based mainly on Ross as Chase and others aren’t F1 experts) then they push changes there.

    I can only imagine Bernie standing at a meeting- “here are our rules, if you want race please do, if not………..”

    1. @garns – agree with Franz and you – Liberty seem to be too consensus-driven, and often seem paralyzed as a result. Liberty needn’t go all Bernie on the regs, but they do have to start drawing some clear lines in the sand.

      1. @phylyp
        The issue is there are new 2021 regs- but no-know seems to know what they are!

        Not sure how an F1 Team (that really is just a business) makes rules on something that hasn’t been delivered yet?

        1. I don’t get why it isn’t clear by now that Liberty only seems ‘paralyzed’ because existing contracts need to run out, because they are addressing all aspects of F1 at once, and because they have wanted to move deliberately and with purpose for long term health. They were never going to just immediately start changing things and disadvantaging lesser teams even further. Would that have not garnered just as many complaints if not more? Did we just want/need another BE? Would they not at a minimum be allowed some time to digest all the fine details of the entity of F1 that they took over?

          Liberty will spell everything out by June. I’m glad they have taken the time they have, and I don’t see how they had any other choice but to take the time they have, to learn, to consult, to modify plans, all to try to get it right. We should be thankful and grateful that such an entity has taken F1 off BE’s hands and is taking such care to do things better.

          1. @Robbie, the fact that there are contracts does not prevent Liberty from laying out its plan for 2021 and beyond.

            You’re right that they can’t change certain things (like commercial arrangements) until then but they could certainly deliver and announce what those arrangements will be once those contracts expire.

            It’s great that they’re taking time, but I’ve seen far too many situations where a company has bought into something they don’t understand get bogged down trying to catch up and never quite getting there.

            With just over 4 months to go, I’ve still yet to see anything concrete to suggest that they are doing anything other that throwing ideas around.

          2. @dbradock Well you (and I) have yet to see anything concrete because for now it is largely behind the scenes as Liberty and the teams sort things out. I don’t know that they are lagging behind in this and we have heard a few insiders now basically saying ok get on with it and set down the regs for 2021 already, like Horner and Tost, but otherwise it seems to me by June is fine. I think one of the best moves Liberty has made is to haul Ross Brawn out of retirement and it is particularly because of him and the team he has put together to help him that I cannot agree that Liberty might not understand what they took over. I think they understand just fine what they have.

            Let’s keep in mind too that this all takes cooperation from the teams, and while for the most part it sounds like they have cooperated, there is a chance that more cooperation would have them further along than they appear to be now. I don’t like to think of this as Liberty vs the teams, but rather Liberty and the teams working together, which I think is what we have for the most part.

            One thing we know that is concrete is the team Brawn has put together with the wind tunnel work, two cars nose to tail. I consider that a game changer for F1 and a huge indicator that they are seriously wanting to improve the product on the track bigtime. That we haven’t actually seen the ongoing results from that work yet is no surprise to me, nor a disappointment, although of course this year’s changes to the wings are a small indication, even if on cars inherently meant to be overly aero dependent and with drs.

          3. well said @robbie, it is easy to say ‘Bernie decided’ and forget what weird, flawed from the start, rules that produced at least in the last 15 years; rules which often had to mlbe amended and changed, or reversed, at short notice because they were a disaster. Unless they were part of commercial, which we are therefore still stuck with, which are now one factor delaying decision-making.

  4. “Liberty is discussing and talking. Bernie just decided.” – He’s entirely spot on there. I couldn’t have put it any better.

    1. @jerejj
      You should be a team Principal :)

      1. @garns LOL. TBH, I doubt my competence would be enough for a job/title with that much responsibility.

    2. The trouble is Bernie made some crazy decisions

      1. I still want sprinklers

    3. @jerejj And what exactly would you have done by now, in your preferred BE style?

      1. @robbie IDK. Haven’t had to think about these type of things in that great detail.

        1. Lol, so…easier said than done, eh? ;)

          1. @jerejj Right then! That’s decided!

  5. If Bernie’s goal was to improve the sport rather than to make money for CVC, he’d have been a brilliant leader of F1. He’s much better than Liberty at getting things done and “playing the game” when he needed to.

    Sadly that wasn’t what he was trying to achieve. We need a mix of the two – a Libernie if you like… Someone who has the balls to tell the teams how it is but who acts for the good of the sport.

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