Toro Rosso will be entering the 2012 season with an all-new driver line-up after it make the surprise announcement that it had dispensed with the services of Jaime Alguersuari and Sébastien Buemi, and promoted test driver Jean-Éric Vergne and Red Bull protégé Daniel Ricciardo to its driver roster.
The Faenza team has confirmed that the decision to replace both of its established drivers was made in conjunction with parent company Red Bull.
While Alguersuari and Buemi both performed above the expectations of many this year, evidently Red Bull does not see either as the next World Champion, leading to their decision to drop them from the line-up.
Vergne will become the third Frenchman to grace the 2012 Formula 1 grid, following his compatriots Charles Pic (Marussia Racing) and Romain Grosjean (Lotus F1) in being confirmed as a full-time driver.
The 21-year-old won last year’s British Formula 3 crown and finished runner-up in this year’s Formula Renault 3.5 championship race. A graduate of Red Bull’s young driver programme, Vergne had a few Friday test outings with Toro Rosso late in the 2011 season, and then impressed Red Bull Racing with his outright pace in the three-day ‘Young Drivers’ test at Abu Dhabi in November.
Ricciardo – who is the 2009 British F3 champion and the 2010 FR3.5 runner-up, in a strange case of coincidence – has already had several Grand Prix outings in 2011, after he was placed at the HRT F1 operation mid-year, having had several Friday outings early in the season with Toro Rosso.
“Over the past year, both Daniel and Jean-Éric have proved their worth and I expect them to make a significant contribution to the team’s performance next year,” Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost has said of their signing.
“Daniel has the benefit of having actually raced in Grands Prix for much of this year, while Jean-Éric proved he could adapt quickly to the demands of driving a Formula 1 car.”
While the confirmation of Toro Rosso’s line-up is surprisingly early by their usual standards, the announcement is still too late for its outgoing drivers, who will find it extremely tough to remain on the F1 grid next year.