When Sebastien Bourdais tested for Scuderia Toro Rosso in July 2007, anticipation was high about the possibility of the French Champ Car champion making a leap of faith over the pond and racing in Formula One. Sebastien had enjoyed great success in America, and although his critics will say he didn’t have a lot of competition, the fact remains that Bourdais won the title four times. However, all has not gone well in Formula One, and the rumour is he has already driven his final grand prix.
Sebastien’s foray on the edges Formula One begin many years before 2007, and the driver had tested for Benetton and Arrows previously. However, circumstances meant that drives didn’t come his way which explains the departure to Champ Cars, and eventual success came after many battles with the likes of A. J. Allmendinger and Paul Tracy. When Bourdais finally had a chance to race in Formula One he jumped at the chance, even though it was with a team that were not successful nor had any previous experience of being successful.
Sebastien drove relatively well in his maiden season in 2008, and although the French star didn’t set the track alight, he did manage to score 4 points and at times, put in some decent performances. Unfortunately, Sebastien’s team mate fared better. Also in his maiden full season of racing, Sebastian Vettel outscored Bourdais with an end-of-season tally of 35 points. This total was helped with an astonishing win from pole in the rain-soaked Italian Grand Prix. Needless to say, Bourdais was firmly in Vettel’s shadow.
During the off-season of 2008-2009, Scuderia Toro Rosso refused to name their drivers for the upcoming season until at the last possible moment, it seemed. While much of the grid had been sorted out with the only major exception of Honda, Scuderia Toro Rosso stood out like a sore thumb. In early January, the team decided to finally announce one of their drivers, and interestingly, it wasn’t Bourdais. Instead, they announced Red Bull test driver Sebastien Buemi for one of the seats.
During testing, Takuma Sato had been driving for the team as well, and it was very clear that Dietrich Mateschitz’s second team were undecided about their driver line-up. Sato drove very well during the winter and often topped the timing sheets, although it should be noted the team fielded 2008 spec. cars as opposed to the then-slower 2009 spec. cars which the other squads were running. Bourdais put in some good runs as well, which undoubtedly made the decision making process even harder.
After what seemed like a very long time since the announcement of Buemi, Scuderia Toro Rosso finally announced the other Sebastien for the second seat in February, and all was well in the STR camp. Since then though, Bourdais has struggled in qualifying and races, and again, he has been overshadowed by a lesser experienced rookie. Buemi currently sits on 3 points, Bourdais is behind on 2.
Sebastien Bourdais talks with an engineer at the 2009 Spanish Grand Prix.
Clearly STR put a lot of faith in their Champ Car champion, and while the car is no where near as good as it was last year, it must be embarrassing to look at the current standings and see your name below a complete rookie. Buemi hasn’t won a single-seater series in his career, his second places in Formula BMW and GP2 Asia being the highlights so far. For a multiple world champion who experienced so much success in America, it must be straining on the morale at the best of times.
But Bourdais has been tirelessly moving forward and trying to right the errors and improve the car. And certainly, the STR4 isn’t all that great. Many will say it should be an RB5 with a different livery, but in fact it is quite a different machine. In order to accommodate a Ferrari engine (Red Bull use Renault at Adrian Newey’s request) many components have to be changed and moved around, which has a major impact on the how the car handles. And looking at the results from the pair so far this season, the STR4 really isn’t an RB5 in disguise. I think it is fair to say that Force India have now moved ahead of them in terms of performance.
So Bourdais’s struggles at the little Italian team aren’t all of his own making, but the rumours still persist. And at the German Grand Prix, many a voice were heard to be saying that this is the last chance saloon for the lovable Frenchman.
Sebastien Bourdais retires from the 2009 German Grand Prix.
Fair enough, Bourdais pulled into his pit box after 21 laps with a hydraulic failure on his car, and therefore nothing of his own doing, but the retirement looks damning when placed alongside the other results from this year. Two other retirements, two eighth place finishes and a string of mediocre non-scoring finishes.
So the question is, was the German Grand Prix Sebastien’s last? Would someone else be able to do any better? With the team currently in turmoil (they may be sold before the 2010 season), would anyone actually want to join the squad?