Having worked with talents like Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen or Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso’s team boss, Franz Tost knows exactly what a young driver needs to be successful in Formula One.
He recons, Sean Gelael has the potential to reach the pinnacle of motorsports.
Toro Rosso’s test driver, Sean Gelael signed for Prema, the best team in Formula 2. What is your take on it?
I think it’s a very good decision because as you mentioned Prema is a very good team, and in the past few years they won many championships. We will see next year, how good Sean’s performance will be.
This winter will be very important for Sean as he has to train a lot to be fit, and he needs to do a lot of simulations and all these kind of stuff to be well prepared for the upcoming season. He has to show his potential and he needs to do good performance.
Toro Rosso usually gives testing opportunity only to drivers, who are related to Red Bull. In the past, Sean was not a part of Red Bull family, but still got the chance. Why?
It’s not true! Toro Rosso always tested with other drivers as well. For example, there was Johnny Cecotto and a couple of other drivers in the past. Why did we decide to do all these tests with Sean? Because he is using Red Bull’s simulator and he is always doing a really good job over there and we think that he has much higher potential than what he is showing currently.
Therefore, we decided to test with him; the first test was in Bahrain and he did a good and impressive job there. We compared his laps to our race drivers’ on those testing days and he was not far away.
He did another test in Hungary, where he also was quite good; he lost only a little bit in the fast corners, but generally speaking he was quite familiar with the car and his technical feedbacks were also very impressive.
He did some FP1 outings with us in Singapore, Malaysia, Mexico and in the United States, where he got used more and more to the car. His last testing day here in Abu Dhabi is a preparation for next year, when he will do F2.
Can he impress you to make him part of Red Bull’s well-known driver development program? Or can we say that he is already a member of this program?
This is not directly a driver development program with Red Bull, he is linked to Toro Rosso. We will see now, what will happen, but I assume that he can also do some FP1 sessions next year with us. But we must wait a little bit as he needs to concentrate on F2.
What are his strongest points and what are the areas where he has to make progress?
One of his strong points is that he is really good under braking and turn-in. He has to learn a bit more in high-speed corners, but for this, you also need the confidence in the car, you need more mileage behind the wheel to become faster.
Generally speaking I think he has the potential, but it’s now in his hands what he does. He has the possibility to drive in a very competitive team in F2 and now he has to prepare himself in the best possible manner to get out most of it.
As Toro Rosso, how can you help him in this?
Of course, we are sitting together regularly to talk about all those things. In Abu Dhabi we had a long chat on Monday, then after his test on Tuesday as well to work on a program for the winter months.
I will give him some ideas from my side, but then it’s up to him to accept it or not. The most important thing is that he must prepare himself in a very professional way. He has the commitment and the positive attitude for the next season.
Do you think that this is the most effective way for learning, being involved both in F1 and F2 at the same time?
This is what other drivers are doing as well. For example, at the Hungaroring Lando Norris and other F2 drivers also tested in Formula One. That’s the normal process. The most important thing is that Sean has to understand that next year’s the priority has to be F2.
He has to show the best possible performance in F2. In F1, he doesn’t need to do this. F1 hopefully will become more important for him a little bit later. Now his concentration and target must be to compete very well in F2 next year.
In Singapore at the FIA’s Friday Press Conference for Team Principals you said that he has to perform in a ‘fantastic’ way next year in F2. What does ‘fantastic’ mean in this case?
He must be in the first 3-4 positions, in the front. At this moment I’m not able to tell you who will win the championship as I still don’t know who will be the main competitors. But I assume that Sean’s main competitors will be De Vries, Rowland, Norris and he has to compete successfully against these guys.
Is it an exciting prospect that he comes from Indonesia, a country with huge population where the popularity of Formula One is growing constantly?
I always say that the interest of Formula One depends on two pillars. The first is a local hero. When I came to Germany, in the late eighties, I was totally shocked because they didn’t broadcast Formula One!
In Austria every single race was broadcasted and when I arrived there, on Sunday afternoon I wanted to watch F1, but it was not in the TV! I asked ’how is that possible?’ They didn’t even do an evening summary about the race… But at that time it was possible, because there was no interest up until Michael Schumacher came to F1.
With him, the interest increased dramatically and it was the same for Spain with Fernando Alonso, for Poland with Robert Kubica. That means the most important factor is to have a local hero, because then people get the identification and they look after it.
The second pillar is the history. There will be always spectators and fans in places like Monza, Silverstone or Spa because these circuits have a strong history.
If a driver, coming from Indonesia, a totally different part of the world has the possibility to get to F1, I really would like to do this, because this would also give some refreshment to Formula One and you’ll never know… Maybe some day we will have a race over there, because it’s a huge country with huge population, their economical situation is also very healthy. So why not?
Do you think that Sean’s personality is right to become a Formula One driver one day?
Knowing his personality, I’m sure that Sean is able to do Formula One, but a lot depends on how the person develops himself. When our current drivers arrived to F1, I’ve told them: ’Look, now you are in F1, but now you really have to start working very hard on everything.’
I do that, because some drivers think when they arrive to F1 that everything is fine now, everything is coming by itself, but this is not true. To come into Formula One means very, very hard work and you really must live for Formula One for 365 days a year.
When I’m talking about personalities, then I always think on the main pillars. The main pillars are: first, you have to be a skilled driver, second, you have to be passionate for this sport. Without these things, you have nothing to do in F1, or any other sport or even the business life!
The third main pillar is that you have to be very, very disciplined, which means you have to be there in time for the meetings or not to overdrive the car in qualifying or you have to pay attention on the physical training and the nutrition. All those questions are pretty important.
The fourth main pillar in my opinion is that you have to be innovative. You always must have ideas on how you can become better, how you can beat your teammate and the others. This means you have to find a way which brings you on the mental side and on the driving side into a situation, when you can be better than the others.
And here comes the personality into consideration! You can’t say that when the drivers are arrived to F1, they have a personality because this is a process. All the activities, fights, crashes are forming their personality.
You can’t say from the beginning onwards that this a driver with a personality - can he do it or not? It depends on how a person develops himself from the mental, physical and driving point of view.
Do you think that Sean has all of these pillars?
Sean has them, now it depends on him, what he gets out of the situation. I think he has the talent to do something. Whether he has the talent to win a Formula One race or not, I can't say at the moment as this takes time.
First of all he must reach Formula One! But his next step is to show good performance in Formula 2 with Prema, because it's a fantastic team. There he can show how much talent he has, and the rest will come later.
He must have the passion, he must love the motorsport, he must be disciplined, and he must be always thinking about what he can do to become better than the others.
Will you give him advices time to time next year?
We are always in contact and if he has a question, I'm always ready to help him and give him advices. He belongs to the Toro Rosso family, we have a good relationship, and he can call me anytime.
If a young driver like Sean approaches you, do you always sit down with him?
For sure. When he's with Toro Rosso, after each session we sit together, compare his data with our drivers', and then analyze everything together. That's important, that's the normal way to work with young drivers, because otherwise they can't improve.
Do these young drivers approach you with topics which are not related to racing?
Yes. Regarding the girls I always say, OK, play a little bit with them, but on the race weekend concentrate on the racing. It's totally easy.
How is Sean’s relationship with the engineers?
Regarding Toro Rosso, he has a very good relationship with our engineers and his feedbacks are also quite good and valid. We know it from our drivers and we see it also from the data. Therefore I think he has the skills to achieve something.
You've worked with some incredible talents throughout your career in Toro Rosso. Is it possible to share some secrets of the ones like Vettel, Verstappen or Ricciardo?
No. Every driver has his own personality. You have to find out, how you can work with a particular driver, what are his weak points, what are his strong points, and then you have to tell it to him. It depends always on how much the driver takes out of it.
I could tell you hundreds of stories when I told something to the drivers and some of them understood it, some of them didn't.