Every season brings with it a few young hopefuls, eager to learn and show off their driving talent while trying not to get swamped among the media, PR, and general business of racing motor cars. These particularly entrants are known as the rookies, and presuming Super Aguri stay with Sato and Davidson, 2008 will see two brand new stars join the grid, and a further two who have completed only a few races between them.
Nelson Piquet Jr
Son of former world champion Nelson Piquet, Junior has grown up around motor racing. Initially living with his mother in Monaco, Nelson moved to Brazil to be with his father when his was still young. It was the time spent in Brazil, learning about the culture and language, that Nelson started to gain interest in his fathers previous job.
With substantial backing from Piquet Sr, Junior started competing and rose through the ranks like any other driver, occasionally receiving a helping hand from his dad (he set up a GP2 team). Eventually Piquet Jr found himself in a testing role at Renault, helping out regular drivers Kovalainen and Fisichella. Piquet Jr actually took this job from Heikki Kovalainen who was promoted himself in 2007. Piquet was similarly promised, allegedly, a race seat for 2008. And sure enough, Flavio Briatore promoted his new young driver and Piquet Jr partners double world champion Fernando Alonso this year.
It is unknown just how the young Brazilian will fair at Renault, Alonso having gained a reputation for being not the greatest of team mates. Perhaps it is wrong to judge a man’s character on one year, but if Alonso has succeeded in gaining number one status at Renault, this will not help Piquet in the slightest.
Of course, Nelson could blow the Spaniard away this year. After all, he only just missed out of the 2006 GP2 title to Lewis Hamilton who faired well in the McLaren during his maiden season. A lot of Piquet’s pace will also come down to the car. The R27 was a bit of a handful, and while it has surely improved, we won’t know exactly how good it is until qualifying in Melbourne.
Sebastien is currently a world champion. His current trophy complements the other three he has on his mantelpiece. But for Bourdais though, the Champ Car World Series is not enough, and for a very long time the French driver has dreamed of adding the Formula One drivers trophy to his collection.
Bourdais has tested Formula One cars in the past, once with Arrows, who went under before Bourdais could be signed. His second test came with Renault, but contractual complications got in the way and Sebastien chose to remain in America. It is alleged that Bourdais’s Renault contract hinged on Flavio Briatore getting a signature on a management contract as well; something Sebastien did not want.
Not giving up though, Sebastien came over to Europe a few times last year to test with Scuderia Toro Rosso, and after a falling out with their current drivers, Gerhard Berger and Franz Tost signed the Frenchman for 2008. It seems strange that a CCWS world champion would sign for a midfield team, flying in the face of previous crossovers like Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya who both joined Williams initially. But I feel this proves just how much Bourdais wants to be in Formula One. He’s completed CCWS and really there is only F1 left of the single-seater classes.
How will he fair? With difficulty. STR are starting the season with last year’s chassis, albeit modified to fit with the changes in regulations. The STR2 finished 2007 quite strong though; it was clear how Red Bull had improved the chassis during the season. And to top it all off, I have a feeling Sebastien could be spending a couple of seasons at STR before being promoted to Red Bull to replace David Coulthard. Which, if the master-plan goes accordingly, would be when they finally combine a reliable and fast car together.
The second Japanese driver to grace the grid this year will be Nakajima, another child of a former Formula One driver. Unlike Piquet though, Nakajima purposefully distanced himself from his father during his progressive years in lower formulae. Instead of teaming up with Honda, as his father did, Kazuki signed for Toyota, the result being a drive for the Toyota-powered Williams in 2008.
Kazuki has already completed his first race though, driving in the Brazilian Grand Prix last year. Alex Wurz, the team’s full-time driver retired early, allowing Williams to fully assess Nakajima’s ability before waving a contract in front of his face. The cynic in me says that Wurz was asked to retire early in order for Kazuki to get some practice in, the Japanese driver I feel already having a contract in place thanks to pressures from Toyota.
Either way, Nakajima has already got the most difficult hurdle out of the way, and aside from running over his pit crew, Kazuki’s maiden race went quite well. His lap times were good, his control wasn’t bad. All in all, it wasn’t a bad effort, although being partnered to Nico Rosberg may put Nakajima in the shade a little. Williams have placed a lot of faith in Kazuki though, a decision I’m sure they wouldn’t have taken if they were unsure.
Toyota have another new driver this season (aside from Nakajima in the Williams), but Timo Glock isn’t as fresh-faced as you might think. Back in 2004 the German driver raced for Jordan when Giorgio Pantano stepped aside. It was only one race, but Glock immediately showed decent pace in the under-powered car and, thanks to some disqualifications, actually scored points on his debut.
Timo returned to the same car for the remaining three races that year, although no more points came due to a slow down in the car’s development and less luck on his side. His performances though should have brought Timo a race drive for 2005, but alas it did not. Instead, Glock went to America to drive in the CCWS, enjoying moderate success and finishing the year in 8th.
A return to Europe in 2006 and participation in GP2 was the plan for Glock. With GP2 being the feeder series to Formula One, the plan was to have another crack at getting into motor sport’s pinnacle series. His first season was dominated by Lewis Hamilton and Nelson Piquet Jr, but Glock managed two wins and finished in fourth. In 2007, the title was his with four wins and an eleven point margin to his nearest rival. Glocks’s 2007 campaign was dove-tailed with testing duties with BMW, but towards the end of the year Toyota made an approach and Timo signed. There were some contractual complications involved, but BMW were eventually forced to let Glock go.
2008 will see the German’s second chance at competing in Formula One, and he really has to make it stick this time around. Few drivers are ever given a second chance, and although Timo perhaps didn’t deserve to be without a drive in 2005, he needs to make sure he has one for 2009. But with his previous experience and testing with BMW, Glock should hit the ground running. He’ll probably get thrashed in qualifying, team mate Jarno Trulli being quite spectacular over one lap. During the races though, Glock has every chance of challenging Trulli and taking the fight to his experienced team mate.