Sebastien Bourdais: the driver debates

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For many years, Sebastien Bourdais was the driver everyone thought deserved a crack at Formula 1.

He won the Formula 3000 championship (since replaced by GP2) and claimed the final four Champ Car titles before the series collapsed.

With only six Formula 1 starts to his name it’s hard to draw solid conclusions about his potential. What do you think of his career so far?

Bourdais was originally expected to graduate to Formula 1 with Renault after his F3000 title win in 2002 (at the expense of Tomas Enge, disqualified from one round due to a drugs infringement).

Bourdais, however, did not want to have his racing career managed by the man who was also Renault’s team boss, Flavio Briatore. Instead he tested for Arrows and was being lined up for a race seat when the team collapsed.

Unable to find an alternative route into Formula 1 Bourdais went racing in America, joining the Newman-Haas Champ Car team that had won titles with the likes of Nigel Mansell. In his maiden season he won three times and was fourth in the championship.

The Champ Car series had been mortally weakened following the Indy Car split and over the following years grid sizes dwindled and the quality of some of the entries was poor. But Bourdais still faced some talented opposition in the form of Paul Tracy and Justin Wilson, and he saw them off comprehensively to win four consecutive championships and 31 races from 73 starts.

Finally an F1 team realised his potential – Toro Rosso signed him to drive for 2008. Bourdais kept clear of trouble in his first race to finish seventh, although he had been even higher before his engine failed with three laps to go.

Since then his performances have been patchy. He and Sebastian Vettel have out-qualified each other three times. Bourdais has had a few crashes at Sepang, Monte-Carlo and Istanbul, although the latter may have been caused by car failure.

The worry for Bourdais is that, with Toro Rosso now up for sale, and Vettel already expected to be at Red Bull next year, he may be left out in the cold.

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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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16 comments on “Sebastien Bourdais: the driver debates”

  1. For me one of the big dissapointments of the season. Certainly the fact of being in a team on sale, the mechanical problems and specially the weight that all the french press is putting over his shoulders is not helping.

  2. Are they, Toncho? I didn’t know that.

  3. I think he’s doing a pretty impressive job so far.

    Crashing the new STR3 and delaying its arrival by a race won’t have done him any favours in the team, but the fact that he’s pretty much on a par with Vettel (who has much more F1 milage under his belt and people have already earmarked as the next Schumacher) says a lot about his general skill.

    He’ll get stronger as the season goes on and remain on the grid for next season I suspect. A suitable replacement for Piquet in 09?

  4. Only 50% of red bull is for sale, and they have until 2010 to sell it, so Bourdais may see at least 2 years in F1. During that time though, he has to prove himself. I don’t think he has been too bad so far, shows good qualifying form and besides the incidents, is ok with racing.

    I would rate him higher than Glock and Piquet at the moment.

    Nobody has asked what is so bad about Briatore that a man would go to Indy rather than F1 because of him..

  5. I think he has done a great job considering its his first year and vettel had almost half a season under his belt. 3 vs. 3 seems good enough for a first timer in f1.

  6. I am quite surprised with his performance so far this year. An under-rated driver who has talent. My only problem is if he keeps reading all the press rumours about the toro rosso sale he might lose his momentum and drive. And i hope he races for a team that car doesn’t break down when you poke it. There hasn’t been a successful driver from north america since Cheever and Andretti.

    What do you think Keith?

  7. What is so bad about Briatore that a man would go to Indy rather than F1 because of him?

  8. Pete Walker (#3 above), “Vettel the next Schumacher” YIKEES !!!!!!!!!!
    Where you getting your info Pete?
    Everyone has to be a rookie once but Piquet, Sutil, Glock, Nagajima, Bourdais and yes, even Vettel, should have had more F1 test mileage before being seated on the grid. 30% of the field are rookies……we don’t pay a ticket price to see kids in TRAINING !!!
    All of these are just “hopefuls” and have ended up as perfect examples of the Peter Principal.

  9. I dunno. Bourdais never impressed me much whenever I watched Champ Car (which admittedly was not that often). I saw him make a lot of rookie mistakes and pull stupid moves on people that certainly were not consistent with his 4-times champion status.

    I tend to think of him as a driver more in the Jacques Villeneuve mould – he won because he was in the best car at the time, rather than actually being the best driver.

    I am, of course, willing for him to prove me wrong.

  10. It’s not easy near the back in F1. He’s short on mileage in these cars, and has a highly capable teammate. I’m sure he’ll find his feet before long.

  11. Number 38, its not me that considers him the next Schumacher, but amongst the Ferrari rumours, the comparison was definitely drawn.

    Its to be expected I suppose. The next promising German to come along was always going to be ‘the new Michael’.

  12. As a big Champ Car fan who watched Bourdais a lot starting from 2004 all I can say is that he had the “aura” of a champion. The only time that was ever in doubt was when A.J. Allmendinger put on a charge in the second half of 2006. You put Seabass in one of the top three teams and I guarantee you he would soon be winning. Look at Schumi in 2005, the Ferrari was crapola that year and he could’nt do anything with it. The car makes all the difference.

  13. In a practice session, I think it was for Spain, I heard some nice audio of Bourdais talking tech with his garage crew, really just arguing about the disadvantage of adding more downforce since he felt like he wasn’t getting enough straightline speed. I think it’s a good sign that he is willing to talk to his mechanics like that, though I wonder if he talked to Newman’s mechanics in the same way.

    He needs more time to get used to the difference between being in a series where all cars are identical and his crack staff know exactly what they are doing and being in a series where his team isn’t quite sure of itself and I suppose like his minutes with Arrows, the team’s future is in doubt.

    He needs to stay in F1 if he can. I suppose it’s too bad he couldn’t work with Briatore, he would’ve been Alonso’s teammate for a while, right?

    Number 38 raises a point that’s come up in a lot of American sports, and that’s youth escalated to the highest part of the sport too quickly. To be honest, it’s a cost control move. If you know you’re going to lose a lot while your mechanics struggle to develop a car, why not lose with someone that won’t cost you as much, and will be able to learn something valuable and grow along with your team? What will happen if Honda or Red Bull finally build themselves a contending car… and then both their aging drivers retire, leaving their test drivers to run DNFs all year while they figure it out? You don’t think two rookies could drive the Ferrari as well as Kimi and Felipe do?

  14. Its hard to judge Bourdais at the moment, but there is no getting away from the fact that his performances have been disappointing so far.
    It highlights, I believe, the huge contrasts between
    the major racing series, in that a four time Champcar
    champion can be struggling in an F1 car.
    It takes time to get adjusted, time to learn. Montoya last year had a terrible spell when he was crashing out
    of several back to back NASCAR events. He was obviously struggling to adjust, as no one can deny he is a great driver.
    At the end of the season, Montoya had won two races and a rookie of the year award. Now I am not saying that Bourdais is going to win a race in his first season
    of F1, but a driver must be judged over the course of a full year of racing.
    If Bourdais is going to have a future, he needs to knuckle down at Toro Rosso and learn as much as possible. If he is as good as everyone says he is, his
    speed and talent will stand out, as it did for Adrian Sutil in Monaco.

  15. Frankly, it’s too early to tell, however, if he were at Ferrari, McLaren, or SauberBMW, he’d be in contention every race, but given the fact that he’s at Toro Rosso? It is not all that surprising he’s struggling. Equipment is everything, particularly for a rookie.
    I watched him in ChampCar and was very impressed. given time, he should be at leas mid-pack, maybe even contending for top 5s in the Toro Rosso.

  16. I don’t know how you can say Bourdais’ performance has been dissapointing. In fact, I would say his performance against Vettel has been impressive considering that Vettel has been dubbed by many as the “next Schumacher”. Bourdais is constantly outpacing Vettel both in races and qualifying at the moment.

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