Toro Rosso: Performance, attitude cost Speed F1 ride

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Scott Speed was not fired because of the altercation he had with Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost after the European Grand Prix.

Technically, Speed, America's only F1 driver until a few days ago, has not been fired at all. But he has been dismissed from his driving duties at Scuderia Toro Rosso.

"It has nothing to do with what happened at the Nürburgring," Tost told reporters during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend. "It was a decision which has been done before [that]. It's because we simply were not happy with the performance and attitude from Scott."

Speed and teammate Tonio Liuzzi both spun out of the rain-soaked European Grand Prix staged at the Nürburgring in Germany.

After he got back to the pits, Speed went to Tost to complain about the mess the team made of his pit stop to change from dry-weather tires to rain tires. Tost said that when he tried to explain what had happened, Speed started to walk away.

Speed said later that Tost punched him in the back, spun him around, grabbed the front of Speed's driver suit and pushed him against the wall.

Here in Budapest, Tost said that as Speed started to walk away "I grabbed him on the arm and said, 'Please stop because I want to explain this to you.'"

What had happened was that Liuzzi was ahead of Speed on the track, so the team expected Liuzzi to pit first. But Speed had cut across the chicane, passing Liuzzi in the process, and thus arrived in the pits first and caught the team off guard.

Witnesses say that Tost definitely did more than just grab Speed by the arm.

The bottom line, however, is that the relationship between Speed and Toro Rosso's Gerhard Berger and Tost hit rock bottom at the European Grand Prix.

Berger, a former F1 driver who was teammates with Ayrton Senna and won 10 Grand Prix races in his 14-year career, took over 50 percent of the Toro Rosso team at the beginning of 2006. It was part of a deal in which Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz assumed 50 percent of Berger's trucking and shipping company while Berger became a co-owner of the team previously owned 100 percent by Red Bull.

Tost's official title is team principal.

The relationship between Tost, Berger and Speed became strained during the winter before this season. Although Speed had a contract for 2007, the team refused to confirm it. Berger said he wasn't sure Speed was committed enough.

Speed finally was confirmed, but not before he missed some valuable winter testing laps.

"As far as my commitment, over the whole winter offseason I spent one week over Christmas with my family in California, whom I have not seen all year," Speed said in March at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. "The rest of the time I spent in Arizona training because that is where I had the best training opportunity. That should answer everybody's commitment question."

Speed's best race this season was the Monaco Grand Prix, in which he started 18th and finished ninth. Afterward, Tost praised Speed's performance.

"Scott drove a brilliant race," Tost said. "He did a very good start, and went from 18th to 13th, and after that, his lap times were very, very competitive. He drove the whole race without making any mistakes. He really deserved to earn points today. It was a fantastic performance -- the best since he joined our team."

But it wasn't enough to mend the deteriorating relationship between Speed and Tost and Berger.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read the press and to know that Franz [Tost] and Gerhard [Berger] are pushing like hell to get rid of me and Tonio [Liuzzi]," Speed said at the Nürburgring on July 21, the day before the big blowup he and Tost had. "So they have their own agendas and motivations, and good for them. Personally, as unhappy as they are with me, I am easily as unhappy with them."

Ironically, Speed had come to grips with the whole situation before it all suddenly came to a head.

"It is clear from my bosses that me and Tonio both have very little support," Speed said at the Nürburgring. "It has been that way for the last two years, and it is a lot more now.

"So at some point, I said, 'OK, I don't care if I'm not in F1 next year, or if I am with a different team, it's OK for me.' And it's actually made me a lot more relaxed and a lot more calm, and I think I am producing better results now."

Speed was the star student of Red Bull's driver search to find and promote a talented American driver into the F1 ranks. It's extraordinary that -- after the investment Red Bull made to get Speed into F1 --he is now out of F1.

I am talking to everyone. I have a couple different options on the table, and we will see. They are not only in F1.

Scott Speed

"Yeah, but this is two different things," Speed said at the Nürburgring. "This is Red Bull on one side, who have been a huge support to me and are the whole reason why I made it as far as I did. And [on the other side are] Gerhard and Franz who are running the F1 team. And those two sometimes don't get along."

When ESPN.com questioned Berger about Speed in Hungary, Berger replied: "You know what? I don't want to spend one second anymore to think about Speed. That is history. He didn't perform, and that is why he is not here anymore. Now, I would like to look forward. We are very happy to have Sebastian [Vettel] here. We want to get quiet in the team."

Vettel is the rookie who made his F1 debut in the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on June 17. He finished eighth and, at 19, became the youngest driver ever to score a point in F1.

Now 20, Vettel has been released from his reserve driver and testing duties at BMW Sauber so he can drive for Toro Rosso for the rest of this season and in 2008.

Just who will be Vettel's teammate in 2008 has yet to be settled. Toro Rosso had an option on Champ Car ace Sebastien Bourdais, but that expired July 31.

Berger said the team has been concentrating on sealing the Vettel deal in recent days. He said that Bourdais is still on the team's list.

"If we have any other news, we will let you know," Berger said.

So what about Speed? He is still under contract to Toro Rosso.

"Scott still is maybe going to be used for testing," Berger said. "We don't know yet. It is a possibility. He is still as a test driver here."

Will Speed really be put to work as a test driver for Toro Rosso? Unlikely, but it remains to be seen what happens.

He certainly won't be racing for Toro Rosso.

"You couldn't pay me enough money to race for those two people again," he was recently quoted as saying about Berger and Tost.

So Speed is looking for a ride, inside and outside of F1.

"I am talking to everyone," he told ESPN.com. "I have a couple different options on the table, and we will see. They are not only in F1. I look everywhere.

"I am a professional racing driver. F1 was always the goal, and I am very happy that I was able to make it this far, but staying where I am right now is not probably the best option for me next year."

Although the relationship with Toro Rosso is shattered, Speed remains loyal to Red Bull.

"Red Bull has been a huge support to me, and I owe a lot to them," he said.

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.