The Italian team retained their promising driver line-up of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, with both showing improvement and development over the course of the year. Red Bull Racing took notice and decided to promote the former for the 2014 season.
Hiring James Key from Sauber as their technical director proved to be a good step in the right direction and the STR8, designed by fellow new recruit Luca Furbatto, was a strong leap forward despite it being an evolution of the previous year’s car. It did away with the heavily undercut sidepods as well as adding a vanity panel to hide the stepped nose.
However, the car wasn’t enough to drag the team up the order and move away from the mid-to-rear section of the pack. The number 18 and 19 cars were more often than not battling for positions just outside of the top 10, but there were a few stand-out performances on both Saturday and Sunday.
Ricciardo proved to be the better qualifier, beating his team-mate for the second consecutive season. He was the lead Toro Rosso in 15 of the qualifying sessions in 2013. Vergne fought back in the races but still trailed his team-mate, largely due to lowly grid positions.
The season didn’t get off to the best start, failing to score points at the season opener in Australia. Ricciardo impressed with seventh place in China. He matched that result at the Monza circuit later in the year, which was coincidentally just after he was announced as a Red Bull Racing driver for 2014.
The Aussie failed to break under the pressure prior to the confirmation of his future, impressively qualifying in fifth and finishing in eighth at the British Grand Prix. Unfortunately the pace of the car meant he couldn’t finish in the top 10 more consistently.
Meanwhile his team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne registered the Faenza-based outfit’s best result of the year at the Canadian Grand Prix. He, for once, qualified well and crossed the line in sixth, hinting at the possible potential of the Frenchman.
Despite bringing updates to the car, the team failed to make any real progress up the running order and ended the season with a 10th and 15th place result for Ricciardo and Vergne respectively in Brazil. They jumped from ninth to eighth in the constructors’ standings but it was still way off their pre-season target.
Now the team looks to 2014 and the dramatic regulation changes that could shake-up the order. With Ricciardo graduating to Red Bull, there was a vacant seat to fill. Many expected Formula Renault 3.5 frontrunner Antonio Felix da Costa to take the drive but they instead went for eventual GP3 champion Daniil Kvyat.
The young Russian completed a test with the team prior to his F1 race weekend debut in Austin, Texas, where he drove in first practice. The session was disrupted several times, limiting his running, but he impressed one week later in FP1 for the season finale in Brazil.
Vergne has been retained for next season. If he wants to secure his long-term F1 future and be considered more seriously for top-line drives, finishing ahead of Kvyat will be crucial.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic