F1: Who Will Drive for Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda in 2019?
A talent vacuum within the Red Bull junior pipeline has the team searching far and wide for drivers to fill the seats of Toro Rosso in 2019.
Red Bull's Formula 1 driver development program faces a conundrum. After years of burning through talented drivers for the next promising prospect in line, the organization finds itself at a deficit. Pierre Gasly will move up to Red Bull Racing alongside Max Verstappen, opening up one STR-Honda seat, and Brendon Hartley hasn't demonstrated he has what it takes to be competitive in Formula 1.
Immediate replacements within the Red Bull organization simply aren't ready. Nirei Fukuzumi is underwhelming in Formula 2, and Dan Ticktum—reportedly a Hartley replacement candidate, according to Motorsport—has a shot at promotion in 2019, jeopardized by title rival Mick Schumacher, just three championship points separating the two.
Since options for young drivers are limited, Red Bull has reportedly turned to spurned junior program alumni as a stopgap measure, compiling a list as long as ten candidates. Allegedly included on said list alongside Ticktum are former STR drivers Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat (the latter according to Autosport), Williams reserve driver Robert Kubica, displaced McLaren man Stoffel Vandoorne, Ferrari junior Antonio Giovinazzi, STR expat Sebastien Buemi, and even Ticktum's direct Formula 3 championship rival Mick Schumacher, according to Soy Motor.
There are a few drivers that can be crossed off from STR-Honda's list, however. Driver program head Dr. Helmut Marko denied interest in Schumacher to Autobild, and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen reportedly swatted down Vandoorne as a candidate. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner effectively counted out Buemi according to Motorsport, and Giovinazzi's closest ties are to Alfa Romeo Sauber, which to a degree serves as the Ferrari-linked equivalent of Toro Rosso.
Those still in the picture are Kubica, Vergne, Ticktum, and Kvyat. Kubica is reported to be on the hunt for a 2019 drive, though little news about his plans for 2019 has come out in recent weeks, save for a curious answer to a question posed by SkySports Italy to Dr. Marko. When asked about the trio of Giovinazzi, Kubica, and Kvyat, Dr. Marko responded by suggesting one of the three would be in an STR-Honda uniform in 2019, and that announcement would come at the Russian Grand Prix.
One could point to the Russian Grand Prix as the ideal place to announce Kvyat's return to acing Formula 1, but that at best is circumstantial evidence. Better evidence can be found from a Belgian journalist, who reportedly was told by STR team principal Franz Tost that Kvyat has indeed been signed for a 2019 drive. Tost also reportedly spoke favorably of Vandoorne, but didn't suggest signing him was probable.
This would leave Giovinazzi, Kubica, Vergne, Hartley, and Ticktum in the picture for the second STR-Honda seat, and depending on the former three's plans, the team may have the luxury of waiting to see how Ticktum's title efforts turn out before picking between any of these drivers.
For clarification, The Drive reached out to teams associated with each driver, except Sauber, which could not be reached, to discuss their drivers' plans for 2019. We will update as we receive their responses.