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We are impressed by Sean’s technical understanding – Q&A with Toro Rosso’s technical director, James Key

Toro Rosso’s technical director, James Key. (Photo:
Have you already used to sushi?
I love Japanese food anyway, so that’s OK! 

And what about working with Honda? Is the cultural difference really that big?

It’s a different culture for sure, but we knew it before, and we represent a different culture for them as well, so it’s the same in reverse. We all have to adapt a little bit. We did some cultural training, because we wanted to communicate the best way possible and understand each other as well as possible. We are in a unique situation where predominantly the team is Italian, so they speak English as second language to Japanese guys who speak English as second language as well. So the chance for making mistakes is quite high, not to speak about time difference, etc. We wanted to make sure to communicate as clearly as possible, and it’s ok so far.

Your drivers were very happy with Honda right from the first test?

Yes, the engine works absolutely flawlessly so far, the drivers were able to go and get on with it, so they are quite happy about how the engine responses, and about the drivability. On the chassis side we had a lot of set-up work to do, but the initial feedbacks are positive, even compared to last year. In that respect we are heading in a positive direction. 

In a Formula 1 sense you have two quite inexperienced drivers. Do you personally help and coach them?

The whole team is quite well set up for this, because obviously one of our tasks over the years was to bring new Red Bull drivers along from the training program. So we have a very clear view about how that process should work – that’s a team effort. The other thing is that they are not inexperienced drivers, they are champions! But not Formula 1 champions, so we need to adapt their very obvious abilities to F1. In that respect it’s quite a different situation for us, because our drivers are new to Formula 1, but not new to motor racing. So it’s more of an adoption now, than an outright training which is what we’ve been through in the past. 

What can you tell us about the future? With Sean Gelael you have a talented test driver as well, who has already driven the car quite a few times?

About the future, it’s more a thing for Red Bull and Franz Tost to discuss, but Sean did a very professional job last year. We were really impressed by his feedbacks and by his technical understanding, which is very good. Hopefully we can continue that this year and developing further. Who knows? He may be a potential future driver for us. We will see!

This year he will race with Prema, one of the top teams of Formula 2. What does it mean for young drivers, when they have the chance to race with a top team at this level?

I think it helps a lot because you are surrounded by guys who expect to get podiums and wins and this is a very positive kind of pressure. Having a very good team mate and working in a very serious operation – it all helps. He will benefit from the positive pressure and atmosphere around him. I think he will learn a lot from this good opportunity.

Like last year, Sean will have a few Friday FP1 outings in this season again. Will his job be a bit more difficult now that Toro Rosso is in transition year because of the arrival of Honda?

I think it should be OK. We don’t plan to do anything differently to last year. We will expect to run him through the Friday practices as normal so his program will be pretty similar to before. 

Do you think it could help him having Formula 1 related duties and Formula 2 racing role in the same time? Could his knowledge be more complex thanks to this mix?

I think it helps, yeah, because you know, they are both Pirelli tyre formulas, even if these are different tyres. He can gain a lot of knowledge by driving an F1 car, he will have some extra track time and he will also have the technical explanation of certain things. I am sure this will allow him to approach certain things in F2 in a slightly different way. It can only be a benefit and I can’t say it could be a disadvantage.

Considering the fact that he is another Asian link to the team, can it be helpful in this new era with Honda?

It could do! It’s always good to know that we have so much interest and support from that part of the world. It’s always good to have Asian drivers, for example we had a few good Japanese drivers in the past in F1. Many of them are great characters with good sense of humor like Kamui Kobayashi, for example. Indonesia, Malaysia and China are very interesting places where we can find a lot of opportunities. Maybe it’s a bit tough for them to get into as the culture is so strong here in Europe, but I think it’s a good thing that Sean is with us!

As technical director of Toro Rosso your schedule must be pretty busy on race weekends, but do you sometimes have the opportunity to take a look on the F2 races when Sean is racing?

Absolutely, we look it quite seriously and we always wish best of luck as well. We always keep an eye on him. Unfortunately the beginning of the races is always at a time when we start a meeting so we have a delay of five minutes watching the beginning of the race, and then concentrate on what we are doing. But of course we always support him.

Do you give him any kind of advises regarding F2?

Only if he asks! It’s very difficult to tell, what for example his balance issues might be on that day on his F2 car compare to an F1 car, so you never know. Of course if there are particular things he wants to look at, maybe a driving line or something, we can discuss it.

All in all, do you think that it would be beneficial for F1 and F2 if a driver from a country with 300 million population could make a breakthrough?

I think it would be great! The more international the sport is and the more countries with big population get access to it, the better. I am not a commercial expert but it’s very important to reach out many of these countries as the world is changing very rapidly. You can play football in the streets or in your back garden or whatever, but it’s not true for motor racing. You got to be identified with it somehow. Youngsters in particular have access to more sports than motor racing so I think by having heroes in those countries is a very positive thing. 

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