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Was The 2009 German Grand Prix Sebastien Bourdais’s Last?

Was The 2009 German Grand Prix Sebastien Bourdais’s Last?

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

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

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?

Oliver White

9 comments

  • “Circumstances” around why Bourdais didn’t start off in F1 were that when he tested for Renault, Flavio insisted that a management deal go along with a drive and Seb didn’t want to be owned by Flavio. It’s hard to say at this point whether that was a good or bad decision, but it certainly didn’t help getting into a decent F1 drive.

  • Autosport have all but confirmed that Alguersuari has been given the nod to drive for Toro Rosso in Hungary: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/76945

    I think the time is right for Bourdais to step aside and let someone else have a go. Admittedly he didn’t have the car this season to show case his talents, but team-mate Buemi had the slight edge on him in qualifying and races.

    As for Alguersuari, he was impressive in British F3 and showed consistency, this season in FR3.5 he found it a little bit tougher and isn’t the best driver in the series. But I guess having the backing of Red Bull and Spanish oil giants Repsol is pretty handy.

  • Bourdais looked and drove all weekend like a driver who’d been told he was surplus to requirements. I don’t think he’s happy in F1 any more. While he’s probably good enough to be there on merit, a happy driver will always drive better than an unhappy one (unless, for reasons I’ve never understood, the unhappy driver happens to be Mansell or Alonso).

    I’m not sure about Alguesuari, but Bourdais and Buemi demonstrate that the only true way to know if being in F1 will work for a driver is to try it out.

  • In case it wasn’t clear enough from the previous comment, my conclusion on Bourdais is that he should find a series that makes him happy and then he’ll perform as well as his Champ Car sojourn suggests he can. Trying to get results before getting a happy situation, as it would be if Sebastién continued with Toro Rosso, is never going to work.

    I think, with some regret, that it should be Sebastién’s final race in F1. At least he will be leaving the team with a certain amount of respect, as shown by the post-retirement hug he got from one of the engineers on the pitwall.

  • It’s hard to say at this point whether that was a good or bad decision, but it certainly didn’t help getting into a decent F1 drive.

    And likewise, when he tested for Arrows, he pretty much had the drive secured by many accounts, but then the team went into administration.

    Admittedly he didn’t have the car this season to show case his talents, but team-mate Buemi had the slight edge on him in qualifying and races.

    And considering Bourdais has now had a year in Formula One, he should be pretty much up to speed and showing Buemi a thing or two. Alas, he isn’t. Maybe luck isn’t on his side, but I think it does look bad when the rookie of rookies is at least on a par with his more experienced team mate.

    a happy driver will always drive better than an unhappy one (unless, for reasons I’ve never understood, the unhappy driver happens to be Mansell or Alonso).

    Thing is, I think Mansell and Alonso have a different perspective towards their racing. I don’t know enough about Bourdais, but I dare say he is more of a sensitive type. That isn’t necessarily bad, but when one is given a lemon of a car, Alonso/Mansell would still drive the bloomin’ socks off it and deflect any criticism of poor results away. Bourdais appears to have taken it to heart. However, I do question STR’s management of their drivers. Speed left in a huff (whether or not the circumstances surrounding it were true or not) and Liuzzi wasn’t entirely happy either.

  • The car is a piece of crap. No wonder Seb seems “unhappy”. Look at Button, when he finally got into the right situation he suddenly started kicking sand into the faces of guys like Kimi and Lewis. When your car is good it makes you better. Put Jensen into that STR and he might end up thinking about something else to do. Maybe STR should retire instead of Seb or at least step to the plate and “sort of make thier own car”. Even the great American driver Scott Speed (humor) was unable to do anything with his version of the STR turd. Seasoned drivers being able to show rookies how to get it done is also nonsense. Talent often over shadows experience. Some drivers are simply better than others as are the machines that they race. Seb needs a better situation and sadly he probably won’t get it.

  • Look, I’ve never thought Le Seb is much chop – wasn’t convinced by what I saw of him in Champcar, and nothing he has done in F1 has changed that opinion.

    However, I am generally opposed to dropping drivers mid season. Especially when the driver is used as a fall guy against the failings of the machine. I also think that Torro Rosso are the worst offenders in this regard, their driver track record speaks for itself.

    And what is replacing Le Seb with a rookie going to acheive? Maybe more $$$, but then surely Mateschitz is not short of a buck or two.

    So on that basis, I am sorry to see Le Seb go. And why are they replacing him with someone not also named Sebastian? 😉

  • It only took his performances in a Le Mans prototype to confirm what an exceptional talent Sébastien Bourdais is. He’s one of my favourite drivers, and unfortunately, one of the unluckiest to grace a Formula One paddock, too.

    My heart sank when his Toro Rosso stalled on the grid at Monza last year. Sébastien never got the opportunity he so incontrovertibely deserved.

    Sigh.

  • Maybe they wanted to get Sebastien out now before the improvements to the car were put in place, because if he started to do well then it would be harder to replace him later with Loeb or a driver with $$ sponsorship.

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