By Alan Baldwin
JEREZ, Spain (Reuters) - Toro Rosso's new Formula One car sent a gasp of astonishment, and a flurry of ribald comments, rippling through social media after it was unveiled on the eve of the first pre-season test on Monday.
Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat and Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne lifted a red sheet off the first new car to be seen 'in the flesh', after other teams had done their presentations online, to reveal its full glory.
The nose - emerging long, thin and gently drooping like a half-inflated balloon from a fuller body - drew immediate attention.
"It's important that it's fast," said Kvyat, who has come into Formula One after winning the GP3 junior series, when asked of his impression. "If it's fast I don't really care (what it looks like).
"What I see from the cockpit when I'm driving is the steering wheel, the mirrors and the road."
If some initial reaction to the STR9 was colorful, with plenty of phallic references, technical director James Key preferred to direct attention towards other areas and other cars.
"It's very easy to get distracted by these noses but we need to start looking at the rest of the car and see what other people have done," he suggested, hinting also at a future controversy waiting to explode.
Ten of the 11 teams are in Jerez for Formula One's first pre-season test but it is Lotus, the absentees, who have triggered most debate by showing a car with a split nose.
Key suggested that could provide the first technical showdown of the year when asked whether he had seen anything so far that looked to be pushing the regulations to the limit.
"Apart from the Lotus nose, no," he replied. "Not at the moment. The Lotus nose needs a bit of clarification. It's a very clever idea. The question really is 'is it within the spirit?' but we'll see.
The 2014 regulations, driven by safety considerations to lower the noses of cars, have forced teams to create unusual front ends - some likened to an anteater or, in the case of Ferrari, a dolphin.
The Lotus nose seen last week had twin 'prongs' or 'tusks', one slightly smaller than the other, and Key said Toro Rosso had looked at a similar solution before discarding it,
"We looked at it early on when the car was quite a bit less mature than now. In theory it was working well but in reality we felt it had too many drawbacks so we didn't pursue that," he added.
"But we kind of understand where they've gone with it. It could be worth a re-visit when things have calmed down. I don't think it's illegal, it just whether it's in the spirit of the regulations.
"Our interpretation of a similar idea was slightly different at the front of the nose to the point where we were happy it could be accepted as within the spirit of the regs. The Lotus is probably the most extreme out there, I would think."
Toro Rosso, eighth overall last season, now have the same Renault engine as champions and sister team Red Bull, after switching from Ferrari, but a fraction of the budget.
Principal Franz Tost said it had been a struggle to get the car finished in time for testing, despite starting work on it earlier than ever.
"The last weeks we worked so hard," he said. "Our team as well as the Renault people were in the factory until two or three in the morning just to finish everything in time."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)