With the confirmation of Daniel Ricciardo (finally) at Red Bull Racing, it leaves a seat available in the sister team of Scuderia Toro Rosso. Jean-Eric Vergne has all but been confirmed to remain for a third consecutive season, but who will join him in the Italian outfit’s line-up? There are two main drivers being linked to the seat, with another a long-shot at best.
The two main candidates are Portuguese driver Antonio Felix da Costa, and Brazilian Felipe Nasr. The outsider is Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr. Let’s analyse all three and see who should get the promotion to the F1 world with Toro Rosso.
Pre-season, Antonio Felix da Costa was favourite to win the 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 series championship. However things haven’t exactly gone to plan for the young man, especially after impressing so spectacularly at the end of 2012 in the same series, winning four of the final five races. 2013 however has been disappointment after disappointment, and he currently sits 5th in the championship, 68 points behind championship leader Kevin Magnussen, with one win in race 2 at Monza.
However most of the disappointments have been out of his control. A violent puncture whilst running P2 in Monza (closing down on eventual race winner Stoffel Vandoorne also) cost him big points. Awful weather caused qualifying chaos in Aragon which was out of his control and he had to fight back to get in the points. First lap contact cost him in Moscow, while car troubles in Austria caused him to have a nightmare at Red Bull’s home event.
However it was in Austria that Helmut Marko saw first hand that Felix da Costa’s problems weren’t purely his own making. Marko saw that plenty of outside factors have played their part this year, and the doubts creeping in to the Red Bull bosses were lessened. He needs a strong end to the year, but Antonio Felix da Costa is prime candidate for the Toro Rosso drive. He could have already been signed had he not been so unlucky this season.
But then we have Felipe Nasr. The Brazilian has been a star this season driving for Carlin in the GP2 Series, currently sitting second in the championship despite not winning a race. Bernie Ecclestone has also come out in support of Nasr, especially with all the uncertainty of his fellow Countryman, Felipe Massa at Ferrari, and Bernie has allegedly said he’d help Nasr get into F1 to maintain a Brazilian presence in the sport.
Tyre conservation has been the name of the game this year in both F1 and GP2, and Nasr seems to have managed his tyres better than most so far. He comes back strongly towards the end of races, pushing for big points and podiums. He missed out on his first win by mere inches in Bahrain, but it still remains elusive to the young Brazilian. Some of his fightbacks have been spectacular for the former British Formula 3 champion. Nasr rejected Red Bull’s advances the same time they hired Felix da Costa. Will he get another chance to race for the company or will he have to wait for his F1 break elsewhere?
The outsider in all this is Carlos Sainz Jr. The GP3 racer impressed the Red Bull family enough to warrant putting him in the young drivers test this year. However it might be a year or two early for him, with a lack of experience harming his chances. A year or two in Formula Renault 3.5, in which he made his first starts this year, could be the way to go for him.
I’d still say Antonio Felix da Costa is the favourite for the Toro Rosso drive, and I feel he’ll do an excellent job within the team. He’d give Jean-Eric Vergne a wake-up call for sure. Nasr might be an excellent driver with a big career ahead of him, but I feel da Costa has the edge on the seat. Sainz I feel will be a full-time Formula Renault 3.5 driver in 2014, and F1 bound in the following couple of years.
My choice: Antonio Felix da Costa.