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Toro Rosso keeps F1 plans sketchy

Spanish driver Jaime Alguersuari's future unclear as team piles on the pressure

On the Thursday before each Grand Prix, the teams hand out press releases to reporters, which detail how they are going to approach the race and provide information about any new additions to their cars. Some of them are very serious in tone, as is the case with McLaren and Ferrari, but there are others, like the sister teams Red Bull and Toro Rosso, who are always out for a bit of a laugh. In the case of the latter, their releases take the form of a comic strip, complete with cartoon versions of the team's drivers.

Since the Australian Grand Prix, the first of the year, another caricature has appeared, in addition to the team's main drivers, Sébastien Buemi and Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari. The third cartoon is of Daniel Ricciardo, a 21-year-old Australian who gets behind the wheel of one of the STR6 cars every Friday to take part in one of the free-practice sessions. When he's not testing for the Toro Rosso team, he has a drive in the Formula Renault 3.5 open-wheel championship.

"Jaime's place is not secure until the end of the season. It will depend on his results in the next races"

Ricciardo is like a sword of Damocles for Buemi and Alguersuari, a kind of means of pressure that Red Bull can wield over the drivers to ensure they continue to try to prove they deserve to be driving a Toro Rosso.

"We support our young drivers, but they have to be aware of the investment that Red Bull is making in them. That's why we put them under this kind of pressure." That statement of intent comes from Helmut Marko, the motorsport advisor of Dietrich Mateschitz, the owner of the energy-drinks empire, and the man in charge of the brand's young-drivers program, through which Buemi, Alguersuari and Ricciardo have all passed.

In contrast to other teams in the paddock, Red Bull does not offer any of its four drives in exchange for money. That leaves it a free hand to deal with its drivers as it pleases, getting rid of anyone it feels is not performing at the level that is expected. That was what happened with Sébastien Bourdais, whose drive was handed over to Alguersuari in Hungary two years ago, making the Spaniard, who was 19 at the time, the youngest debutant in the sport's history.

In three races' time, Alguersuari will be heading back to Budapest, and ahead of this weekend's European Grand Prix, in Valencia, he had to defend himself against his critics, who have been questioning whether he will continue in the team.

Those doubts about his performance are not without their foundations. During the first six races of the 2011 season, Buemi out-classified Alguersuari - the only exception being in China - as well as beating him when it came to race days.

"I'm sick of all this stupidity," the young driver said in Valencia. "Apparently, any rumors, wherever they come from, signed by whoever or not even signed, carry more weight than statements from Franz Tost [team principal at Toro Rosso] or Helmut Marko."

But the very next day Tost shot back a reply. "Jaime's place is not secure until the end of the season. It will depend on his results in the next races."

Alguersuari had already finished eighth in Canada. But he needed another strong result, like the one he managed in Valencia at the weekend.

"I didn't drive any better than I did in Monaco, where I lost four points just six laps before the end thanks to an accident caused by Sutil, nor in China, Turkey or Barcelona," Alguersuari said.

But the eighth place that the Spaniard managed on Sunday prompted Tost to tone down his comments. "If he does races like this," he said, "not only is he secure for this year but we will also be hoping for a lot more from him in the future."