Sebastien Bourdais - the long road (back) to Formula One 13 Aug 2007
The age of Formula One drivers seems to have been dropping steadily for some time now - in the current era of Hamilton (22), Kubica (22) and Vettel (20), even 27 year-old Jenson Button is seen as something of an elder statesman.
Now, as he finally realises his Formula One dream, Toro Rossos new signing for 2008, 28 year-old Sebastien Bourdais, faces a tough challenge as one of the oldest debutants for several seasons. Will he be able to follow in Jacques Villeneuves and Juan Pablo Montoyas footsteps and make a successful switch to the Formula One grid?
Born in Le Mans and with an enthusiastic racing driver for a father, Bourdais early life was dominated by motorsport and the young Sebastiens career choice surprised few. After receiving a kart as a Christmas gift, Bourdais didnt look back and, aged just 12, became regional champion. At 14 he clinched the national title before predictably turning his attentions to open-wheel racing.
His first challenge was the 1995 Formula Campus series. Still finding his feet, he ended the season in ninth before switching to Formula Renault the following year. He finished seventh overall and stayed on for a second year to continue his apprenticeship. Although tangible results proved elusive, Bourdais used his time wisely and in 98 he decided he had accumulated enough experience to ready him for French Formula Three.
The switch paid off and, after a successful first season, he was named rookie of the year. Then in 1999 Bourdais found himself the dominant driver and took eight victories on his way to the title. A switch to F3000 in 2000, however, proved less spectacular, and the Frenchman claimed just one podium - with the Prost team - in his first season. Nevertheless, he did impress in that years Le Mans 24-hour event, finishing fourth for Henri Pescarolos novice team.
But with his eyes fixed firmly on a Formula One drive, Bourdais knew he needed to shine in F3000. Switching to the DAMS team for 2001, he didnt have to wait long. He was soon enjoying solid results, including his first series win at Silverstone, and in 2002 he proved the class of the field, fending off strong challenges from Giorgio Pantano and Tomas Enge to clinch the title with three wins and eight podium finishes
As an international championship winner, Bourdais was now seen as a real Formula One prospect and after testing for Arrows he was offered a Formula One race seat for the 2003 season. However, when the struggling team went bankrupt, Bourdais big chance was lost. A second test for Renault looked promising, but a permanent drive with the French squad failed to materialize and in the end future world champion Fernando Alonso landed the seat.
Overlooked and disappointed, Bourdais headed to pastures new, crossing the Atlantic to the hugely-competitive Champ Car series. Signed to the renowned Newman-Hass Racing Team, Bourdais instantly impressed, taking pole position in his first two races and winning his fourth. Two further victories and another four podiums saw him named rookie of the year and his one-year contract was duly extended. His ascendancy continued the next season, when he won the championship with seven wins and 10 podiums, forcing his far more-experienced team mate, Bruno Junqueira, to settle for second.
And after dominating the series for a further two seasons, winning both the 2005 and 2006 titles, Bourdais looks set for a historic fourth championship in 07. The allure of Formula One racing, however, has clearly remained potent for the Frenchman, who jumped at the opportunity to test for Toro Rosso earlier this year. Now the Italian squad has signed him up for 2008 and all that remains is for Bourdais to prove he can still shine amongst the young guns.