Toro Rosso Team Member Profile
Location: Faenza, Italy
Scuderia Toro Rosso has been competing in the Formula 1 World Championship since 2006. The team was created with a view to finding two extra cockpits for the stars of the future coming through the ranks of the Red Bull Junior Driver Programme. Nine years down the road, that is still very much the team’s raison d’etre in 2014 with a graduate of that programme, Jean-Eric Vergne competing in his third full season of Formula 1. The French driver is teamed with the Russian rookie, Daniil Kvyat, another graduate of the Red Bull Junior “finishing school” and winner of the 2013 GP3 Championship. When the team was first established it operated partly as a satellite to Red Bull Racing running a car designed mainly by Red Bull Technology. However, for several years now Scuderia Toro Rosso has run completely independently, doing all the car design and manufacturing work in-house in Faenza. This necessitated a major expansion programme for the factory, which is still on-going and the Italian side of the operation is supported by the team’s wind tunnel facility in Bicester, England. A recent addition was a new building housing all the composites side of the operation meaning the team produces virtually every component in house with the obvious exceptions of parts such as the engine. On the engine front, after seven years being powered by Ferrari, for 2014 Scuderia Toro Rosso has switched to Renault, just as the technical rules go through a major change, featuring 1.6 litre turbocharged Power Units equipped with potent energy recovery systems. Team Principal Franz Tost has been at the helm since 2005, while the technical side is managed by Technical Director James Key. Currently the team has one win and one pole position to its name, both courtesy of Sebastian Vettel, who produced the fairytale result at the team’s home race, the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, back in 2008.
As a young lad, Franz Tost’s big hero was fellow countryman Jochen Rindt: his bedroom walls were covered with posters of the Austrian ace and when it was dissertation time at school, Franz’s classmates would all groan, as they knew what was coming – another bloody eulogy to Rindt. Inevitably, Tost found himself behind the wheel, racing a Formula Ford. He was quick enough to win the 1983 Austrian FF Championship, but he felt he would not make it to the top as a driver so a degree in Sports Management from Innsbruck University was next on the agenda. This led to a job at the highly-rated Walter Lechner Racing School at the Zeltweg circuit.
From there Tost moved to a team management role with EUFRA Racing and at the end of 1993, he took the post of team manager with Willi Weber’s Formula 3 team. It was here that he crossed paths with Ralf Schumacher and Weber asked Tost to accompany the youngster to Japan. This led to looking after Ralf’s interests at Jordan and then Williams, prior to taking on the role of Operations Manager with BMW’s Formula 1 programme. From there, he took on the role of Team Principal with the newly formed Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2005.
Englishman James studied Mechanical Engineering at Nottingham University and after graduating worked for Lotus Engineering. He then joined Jordan Grand Prix in 1998, working first as a data engineer and then as a race engineer. He also worked in the wind tunnel, before becoming head of Vehicle Dynamics. He became technical director in 2005 and retained this role as the team became Midland F1, then Spyker and Force India.
In April 2010, he became Technical Director at Sauber, where he stayed until February 2012. In September of that year he joined us here in Faenza. With a reputation for getting the most “bang for your buck” out of a reasonable budget, he spends his time between the factory and the wind tunnel and has spent the past two years focusing mainly on the 2014 car, while also overseeing the expansion of the team’s technical staff.
James is married with 3 children. His hobbies, when he has the time, are reading and playing tennis.
Some people end up in F1 through an all-consuming passion for the sport, but that wasn’t the case for our Sporting Director Steve Nielsen. A brief stint in the Metropolitan Police in London was enough for him to realise this wasn’t the career for him and, keen to travel the world, he found himself working as a truck driver for a Formula 1 catering company.
Then in 1987, still at the wheel of a truck, he joined the test team at Lotus, before running their Spares department, a role which he then continued with the Tyrrell team in 1991. He was promoted to assistant team manager in ’94 and then moved to Benetton in the same role in 1995. Following appointments as Team Manager with Honda and Arrows, he spent almost a decade back at Benetton and its subsequent incarnations as Renault F1 and Lotus Renault GP in the position of Sporting Director.
In 2012 came a brief spell as Sporting Director at Caterham, before he became an Englishman Abroad, joining Scuderia Toro Rosso just in time for 2013 pre-season testing. “I must admit, at first I had no great passion for motor sport and, in the beginning I never thought it was going to be a permanent thing,” says Steve. However, something about the work must have appealed to him, because, over a quarter of century later, he’s still in the paddock. “The job involves long hours and plenty of hard work, but it’s fast moving and never boring,” he says by way of explanation.
When you compete in races known as "Grand Prix," it's useful to have someone in your team who understands what those two words mean, even if this is not our French engineer's main role. Laurent Mekies is well qualified for the job, with a Masters degree in Automotive Engineering obtained in Paris, which included a final year at the UK's Loughborough University, something of a hotbed for race engineers in Britain. Laurent's entire working life has been spent trackside, first with a Formula 3 team, before eventually tasting F1 with the Arrows team in 2001. A year later he joined Minardi as a race engineer and has been in Faenza ever since, taking on the role of Chief Engineer when Scuderia Toro Rosso was born. Since 2013, the Frenchman has been given a much broader role, with the team creating the new position of Head of Vehicle Performance as part of its restructuring plan. "Like many kids I was a racing fan and particularly a karting fan, and from that I got more and more interested in motor racing," says Mekies. "The idea of working in the industry came much later, when I was studying engineering and so here I am. I’d say that so far, it’s worked out okay!"