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Team preview: Toro Rosso

After running a 'replica' Red Bull car for years, a rule clarification forced Toro Rosso to become truly independent last season - so can they come into their own this season after a year in the making?

The team formerly known as Minardi has certainly stepped up from its back-of-the-grid history in its five years on the grid but it has the might of Red Bull to thank for that, as it was basically being run as a race operations outfit using designs from Red Bull Technology.

Toro Rosso

Last year, in its first year of design independence, it lost its way a little but this season is different as it is the first time the team has had an established and experienced design office in place creating their own car with resources to do so.

It took Toro Rosso time to put in place their operations to run as an independent team, and last year they had no wind tunnel and very immature CFD, so they made only the regulation changes needed to make their 2009 car fit to the 2010 regulations and then brought in updates sporadically during the year.

This time they have better resources and understand them better so have been able to focus more on performance - and veteran designer Giorgio Ascinelli has delved into the past to deliver an innovative approach to this year's regulations by revisiting the double floor concept tried by Ferrari in 1992.

All teams are looking to encourage flow over the top of the diffuser in the area behind the sidepods at the rear of the car as much as possible this year in an effort to increase downforce. This has led to a trend of undercutting the sidepods to steer clean air from under the high nose at the front of the car around and into the coke bottle area at the rear to create higher pressure in that area and thus develop downforce on the car's floor.

In a move that takes sidepod undercuts to a new level, the Toro Rosso design has lifted the sidepods up from the floor from their outer edge to the central chassis monocoque, creating an open gap all the way from the front of the floor to the rear and creating a much cleaner route through for the clean air to pass along the car.

This has been made possible because of a Ferrari engine and KERS system that apparently has efficient cooling, allowing them to reduce the radiator size that usually makes up the main bulk of the sidepods. But it comes with its compromises as the weight of the sidepods is lifted up, increasing the height of the centre of gravity, which can negatively affect how the car handles.

This year seems to have seen many teams take design gambles and create innovative cars - assuming that if they play it conservative they will stay in the same place relative to their rivals as budget dictates the order. That Toro Rosso has taken this approach gives them the potential to be one of those teams to make a jump.

In the driver department, Toro Rosso has always been seen as a proving ground for Red Bull junior drivers, and as such Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari are now looking over their shoulders at test driver Daniel Ricciardo, who has performed well in tests and is waiting in the wings should either fail to perform.

Whether this pressure is good or bad remains to be seen - but if the car's innovative concepts can allow the team to punch above its weight, its drivers will need to be up for the fight.

Every day leading up to the start of the F1 season, Will Gray will be breaking down a different team's prospects for 2011.

The schedule is as follows: Mar 14 Virgin; Mar 15 HRT; Mar 16 Lotus; Mar 17 Toro Rosso; Mar 18 Sauber; Mar 19 Force India; Mar 20 Williams; Mar 21 Renault, Mar 22 Mercedes; Mar 23 Ferrari; Mar 24 McLaren; Mar 25 Red Bull

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