• James Key Q&A

Taking Toro Rosso to the next level

ESPN Staff
September 18, 2012

New Toro Rosso technical director James Key answers journalists' questions on his move from Sauber, life in Italy and Toro Rosso's potential

James Key has joined Toro Rosso as its technical director © Getty Images

When were you first approached by Red Bull and who approached you?
I was approached in early August by Red Bull and soon got in touch with Franz Tost, it happened very quickly. So it's only really been a matter of weeks before I took over the job and I'm delighted to be here.

You were linked with all sorts of different teams during your time away, so why did you choose to join Toro Rosso?
It's a good question because there was activity, you're right. I was actually employed for some of the period by Lotus [in sports cars] and that was the original plan. That was with Lotus Cars in the UK so I already had something lined up, but unfortunately changes there, which you may or may not be aware of, really didn't make what I was planning possible. So I became available again and for me Toro Rosso - although there were other possibilities - is something that feels quite familiar to me. It's a team that is keen to take a fresh look at things, it's not a big team, but it's bigger than I thought it would be and it's a challenge that I've been through a couple of times before. So that's the main things that attracted me to Toro Rosso.

You're predecessors did a half-decent or good job here, what plans to you have to make the team step forward?
It is early days so I need to observe a little longer, but a little like my previous team, you have an end game in sight and you know where you want to go with it. It's just a case of understanding what we need to do with the team to get there. The end game changes with whichever team you're in, but I think for me there is some element of restructuring required simply to strengthen the areas that I think are most important for performance and maybe even generate new departments - that's one thing that we've been discussing in the past couple of days. Also to take a good look at where the current car is and where the concepts for next year's car are going and try to bring that in line with what I believe is a good car. Certainly a lot of progress has already been made on next year's car, so a lot of the significant bits have been drawn already. We have a lot of work to do next season and that's what I'll be concentrating on, to try and get the numbers and everything out of the wind tunnel.

Will there be some kind of co-operation with Adrian Newey? Can you also describe the strengths of the Sauber? And furthermore what are the differences between the Sauber and the Toro Rosso at the moment?
With Adrian I don't know. We are a family here [at Red Bull and Toro Rosso], but we are also a team in our own right because of the rules that surround Formula One. I think our relationship could develop, but we have to be careful and see what happens. With regards to the Sauber car and the current Toro Rosso, the Sauber is clearly working well. There's been a lot of work over the past two years and that's certainly showing now. I think as the Toro Rosso stands there are probably a few things - they are technical details so I've got to be careful - but there are a few things that are perhaps quite clear straight away. We will maybe try to do something this year with the time we have, perhaps on the mechanical side to try to balance the car. The aero numbers need a little bit of work, but they are not so far off. The strengths of the car, well it's certainly well put together and also its efficiency is quite good aerodynamically and I've been quite impressed by that. There are certainly different characteristics there, but it's probably a little bit early for me to say exactly what the pros and cons are of each car.

Toro Rosso is a junior team for Red Bull Racing, how much did that play into your considerations? And secondly you will obviously have to move to Italy, how big a consideration was that?
First of all, from a technical point of view Toro Rosso is certainly a team in its own right. When I've been at Faenza to meet everyone there I've been really surprised with how good the team is and the level of facilities they have generated over the last few years. I think with the driver situation perhaps there is an element of it being a junior team, but from a technical point of view it is very much a team in its own right. With regards to Italy, I'm delighted to have moved to Italy. My family have moved back to the UK from where I lived before in Switzerland so it's a little bit of commuter situation for me. But it's a nice place, very Italian with the countryside around it and I enjoy being there. Obviously it was a consideration and I had to check with my wife to see if she was happy first, but she was.

Do you see the prospect of going to a top team after Toro Rosso, with the obvious connection between Toro Rosso and Red Bull?
I don't know, I think the priority for me is Toro Rosso right now and I'm not thinking about the future too much. The future right now is Melbourne next year. My priority is to work with Toro Rosso and take the team to the next level.

James Key is hoping to make an impact with the 2013 Toro Rosso © Sutton Images

With the big changes to the regulations coming in 2014, how much is that going to limit you doing everything that you want to do in 2013?
It's a difficult thing actually and it's a good question. Three years of continuity is a good period of time to try and turn something around and get it working as you would like, but with 2014 coming after the next car it's going to be a completely different direction because there is not an awful lot of carry over. Although Toro Rosso is not a bad size, it is a fairly small team and you have to be very careful about finding a balance between next year, when we clearly want to make a step forward, and also not compromising 2014. It's also worth saying that there are opportunities in 2014, as we saw in 2009 when somebody went to the front [of the grid]. I think we are going to have to play a very difficult balancing act between the two and determining that will be a little more difficult.

Your predecessor was always very honest about the resources of that team and what he felt that could mean relative to the others. You said about the team making the next step, but does it have the facilities, resources and head count to be in the top five or six teams, or is this it's natural level?
It's absolutely right to be honest about where you can be, but I think you've got to be ambitious too. The head count is there to be honest and it's a bigger team than I thought it was when I first started having discussions. So the head count is there but probably needs a bit of shifting around to get the emphasis right on the performance side. Facilities wise, well there are some great facilities here and there are a few things missing, but we've been talking about how we can improve that too. I think there is probably a short-term plan to get the best from everything we already have and a long-term plan of how we can get the things that I feel we should be looking at but haven't quite got yet. I think it's possible but it is going to take a bit of a change in the way we work and to a certain extent our methodology and how we go about designing the car. But I'm not sceptical about this, I think it's possible.

One of the jobs of the technical director is to demand extra investment for all the things they want in the team. If this was to remain a small team indefinitely you might have been less tempted to relocate to work here, so have you had assurances that the resources are in place if you want to upscale things and equipment? Is that the project you are here to oversee?
I think to a certain extent, but like I said, I'm really impressed with the level of investment that has gone in to Faenza over the last three years. This team has improved from something that was very small to a genuine constructor over a very short period and a lot of money has already gone in to allowing that to happen. Clearly there are a number of things I would like to bring in over time, and I know that there is a desire in the team to do that too. You've always got to attune yourself and your actions to the budget that you have and obviously there's a business plan, some of which I've seen, and I'm putting together plans now of how I think we should approach the next three years and we will sit down and do whatever we can within the budget we have.