2008: The rookies

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I can’t remember the last season to see such a diverse crop of rookies. There’s a four-times Champ Car champion, a guy who actually made his F1 debut four years ago then disappeared off into the wilderness, one who looks fast but wild and is perhaps reaching F1 12 months too soon, and one who’s taken the ‘normal’ route with a couple of F3 titles to his name and a decent showing in GP2.

Oh, and the last two also have F1 drivers for dads, who were team mates at Lotus in 1988.

So how will Sebastien Bourdais, Timo Glock, Nelson Piquet Jnr and Kazuki Nakajima fair in their first full seasons of F1 racing?

Sebastien Bourdais – The Frenchman swept all before him in Champ Car, winning four titles and 31 races from 73 starts. That’s an excellent record, but the fact that the series just got taken over by the Indy Racing League tells you how strong it and the competition was.

Bourdais is definitely quick and in testing has looked to be on team mate Sebastian Vettel’s pace. He was immensely popular within his Newman-Haas-Lanigan racing team in the States, and he will want to cultivate the same relationship at Toro Rosso.

But he also gained a reputation in America for being a bit of a bad loser, despite the fact he didn’t do an awful lot of losing over there. Why did he feel the need to indulge in petty squabbles with Paul Tracy even as he blew him into the weeds? He even managed to get the crowd booing him at Mont Tremblant last year after slagging off Robert Doornbos.

Sebastien Bourdais biography

Timo Glock – Glock got to F1 the hard way. He made a few starts for Jordan in 2004 as a stand-in for Giorgio Pantano and scored points on his d??but at Montreal following the disqualification of several cars in front of him. He dropped off the F1 radar after that but taking a drive with one of GP2’s least competitive teams put him in the place to move up to the front when the opportunity arose.

Glock is rapid when he gets the car hooked up but he’s also a tough, instinctive, opportunistic racer in the Lewis Hamilton mould – witness their thrilling battle in GP2 at Istanbul in 2006, and Glock’s peach of a last-lap pass to win at Hockenheim in the same year. Looking at Toyota’s testing times he’s likely to end up at the tail of the midfield, which could be highly entertaining.

Timo Glock biography

Nelson Piquet Jnr – Or Nelsinho Piquet if you prefer, although I wonder what happens if Nelson Jnr calls his son Nelson as well – would that be Nelsinhoinho?

Regardless, Piquet Jnr may have had the support of a three times champion father but he’s made it into F1 on merit, paying his dues with F3 titles, a fine second to Hamilton in GP2’s super-competitive 2006 season, and a year’s testing with Renault.

But Piquet Jnr is stepping into F1 as Fernando Alonso’s team mate and we all know how well Alonso got on with his last one. If Piquet Jnr proves as quick as he thinks he is he’ll need to keep Alonso sweet and such diplomatic niceties were hardly his father’s forte. Just ask Nigel Mansell…

Nelson Piquet Jnr biography

Kazuki Nakajima – Who knows what political manoeuvrings go on between Williams and their engine suppliers Toyota, whom Williams regularly beat using the Japanese engines in 2007? Some rumours said Toyota tried to pinch Nico Rosberg off Williams. It’s not hard to imagine that Kazuki Nakajima, a Toyota man for most of his racing career, was forced on the Williams team for political reasons.

That would do him a disservice, however, as he seems good enough to get into F1 on merit, although perhaps in 2009 rather than 2008. He was the top rookie in GP2 last year but didn’t actually win a race, and made a bad error taking Karun Chandhok out at Istanbul.

But he also proved he can do consistency with five podiums in a row in the middle of the year. His F1 debut in the last race of 2007 was unfortunately remembered more for him hitting his pit crew than his fifth fastest race lap or his string of overtaking moves. And he seems to have been keeping Rosberg honest in testing.

Kazuki Nakajima biography

What about Sebastien Vettel? – The Toro Rosso driver is also starting his first full season of F1, but compared to these guys he looks like a veteran. Although he impressed with a fine drive in Shanghai he was usually fractionally slower than Vitantonio Liuzzi last year, and he did commit that horrible howler at Fuji. For me, the jury’s still out on Vettel.

What do you think of the 2008 rookies?

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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11 comments on “2008: The rookies”

  1. It’s quite a decent crop of rookies, isn’t it?

    I quite like Glock, to be honest. GP2 wasn’t brilliant last year in absolute raw talent, not quite as good as the previous two seasons, but he still had to win it despite the fates conspiring against him at every round in some way. I think he’s a better driver for his few years in the cold than when he first made it to F1. It’s almost a reason to support Toyota for me.

    I think Nakajima is there too early. I think he might be a bit Sato-esque, fast but crash-prone, so I hope Williams have money spare to repair accident damage. But he may very likely prove me wrong.

    I’m a big fan of Bourdais, I think he deserved an F1 drive sooner, even though Champcar wasn’t what it used to be in the last couple of seasons, but he was still head and shoulder above everyone else there. I’m looking forward to seeing him versus Vettel.

    And Piquet. It’s kind of bizarre, but somehow I know more about Nakajima than Piquet just from watching GP2, like he gets around under the radar, or maybe it’s just me. It’d be funny if he was instantly equally as fast as Alonso, just to see Alonso blow his top and start instantly looking for a new drive, as he seems prone to that sort of thing.

    Piquet will *probably* end up with most points out of the 4. But I’m tipping Bourdais (or maybe Glock) to be the rookie everyone talks about.

  2. Again, I’m looking forward to seeing what Glock will do this year – the midfield will be quite a good battleground for once!

    As for Bourdais, there’s no doubt he is a good driver, but if he’s a sore loser then he better sort that out quick as he won’t do a lot of winning in a Toro Rosso…

  3. Reading Bourdais’ bio helped me to see that he’s really one of these “old-time” folks, running sportcars for fun, and not only the regular single-seaters series that pays the salary with which he feeds his kids…

    So, my curiosity only grew stronger…

  4. Im expecting Nakajima to prove everyone that says he’s there because of Toyota wrong… For me this guy has potential, hovewer i agree he should have competed another year in GP2… But we’ll see… Im sure this guy will be surprise…

  5. Everyone remembers Nakajima thanks to his pit stop in the Brazilian GP last year. In a strange way, that could be the best thing that has happened to him. Think about it – you’re a rookie getting the chance of a lifetime and you make a huge mistake broadcast around the world, instantly famous for a blunder instead of your fifth fastest race lap. How’re you gonna feel when starting your first full season?

    I can answer that – you are going to be so determined not to make another mistake that, if anything, you’ll be much safer than any other driver.

    Kazuki is going to surprise us all.

  6. I think Piquet(and his father) will set out to get under Alonso’s skin. Normally that wouldn’t be a great plan for a rookie when dealing with the team principal’s favourite but Piquet is in the team at the behest of Carlos Slim Helu who just happens to be the richest man in the world. If you are Renault and you don’t want to be losing money on F1 do you work at keeping Alonso happy or do you keep the richest man on the planet happy if his guy is as fast as Alonso.

    I expect fireworks.

  7. Good point Steven – which of Helu’s companies is sponsoring Renault this year? I don’t actually know that much about him.

  8. It is a bumper crop of rookies!
    Probably the best since 2001 when Raikkonen, Alonso and Montoya all debuted (OK and Bernoldi!, you know he did date Jelana Dokic..).
    My tips
    Kazu to be freakishly quick, inconsistant and end up in Toyota 2009.
    Nelsinho to be a disappointment and not get close to Alonso.
    Bourdais the story of the year dropping Vettel behind and leaving F1 boses jumping to get his nemesis Will Power in a F1 car.
    And finally the Irish rookie Tim O’Glock comfortably sees off Jarno Trulli.

    Clive’s blog comments about Vettel sum him up for me. http://madtv.me.uk/f1insight/default.aspx?blogid=191

  9. I believe that Bourdais, although good (nobody can deny him that!) will find F1 to be a veeeery different cup of tea from what he used to do.

    I think the williams duo is able to surprise us this year given the right car. Both Nico and Kazu.

    As of Nelsinho… I agree with Mark, he will have nothing on Fernando, which is a pitty.

  10. Well, I think that the ones that we expect the least of are always the ones that prove us wrong. As Mark said, in 2001 we had Raikkonen, Alonso and Montoya debuting, and as far as I remember, Alonso was the underdog – being on a Minardi and spanish (I mean, not so many great spanish drivers around in the F1 history…) no one betted on him. In the end, he got his titles before Kimi, and Montoya left empty-handed, unfortunately.

  11. I am not sure which of Carlos Slim Helu’s companies is sponsoring Renault. His best known business is Telmex which as far as I know used to be the state phone company until he acquired it in a privatisation. He also owns Verizon which I am sure I have seen on an F1 car at some time. He had a stake in MCI but he sold that.

    Interestingly Forbes only show him as the third richest man in the world but by their figures he gained $19billion last year taking him up to $49 billion just behind Warren Buffet who has $52billion and Bill Gates on $56 billion. Given the rate he is acquiring money at it is safe to say Forbes will have him at number one this year. I guess his position depends on the day the figures are calculated.

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