The 2008 newcomers - Sebastian Bourdais 12 Mar 2008
In an era when driver ages keep tumbling, at 28 years-old, Toro Rossos Sebastien Bourdais is something of an anomaly. Not only is he a fair few years older than his fellow debutants, Bourdais is also vastly more experienced. A four-time Champ Car champion he is one of the most successful drivers of all time, and yet he has never raced a Formula One car.
He came close back in 2003, when Arrows signed him for the season. But when the squad subsequently went bankrupt, Bourdais was forced to look further afield for a race seat. Though his Formula One potential has been touted ever since, a satisfactory opportunity never materialised. Thats all about to change, however, this weekend in Australia, when the Frenchman finally gets his chance to shine, thanks to deal signed with Toro Rosso.
Now Bourdais must prove he can be just as successful racing in Europe as he has been in America. It will take time, of course, to adjust to the change of scene. Former attempts made by Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya to swap the top US series for Formula One did pay off, but both Michael Andretti and Alex Zanardi struggled to find similar form when they made the move.
Bourdais himself is not expecting to be challenging for the championship just yet. As well as acknowledging the time it will take to find his feet, he also knows that unlike in the States, he is not making his debut for an uber-competitive outfit, rather a backmarker team on the ascendancy. While Toro Rosso are looking in good enough form to occasionally harangue the midfield, the squad are far from being the front-running outfit Bourdais is used to.
For the Frenchman, however, the allure of finally sating his Formula One dream took precedence over the practicalities of the teams budget and when Toro Rosso decided to take a chance on him, Bourdais chose to do the same. At times last season the team were openly critical of their drivers, but Bourdais should have no worries on that front, given that he was selected over incumbent driver Vitantonio Liuzzi. And so far things are progressing nicely on track too. Bourdais has looked pretty strong over the winter testing period and with the Italian squad set to start the season with their 2007 car, their reliability should be strong.
While it may not be the dream seat for the start of a Formula One career, anyone who saw Bourdais master first Formula Three, then F3000 and most recently Champ Car, knows he has bucket loads of talent. Put him in a Ferrari or McLaren and Bourdais has more than enough flair to turn in some excellent performances. In a year-old Toro Rosso, however, he knows he will be lucky to make it into Q2 on a Saturday. But while glugging champagne on the podium may soon be but a distant memory, there is no doubting his enthusiasm, given that he has waited this long - and forsaken a potential, historic fifth US title - for his Formula One opportunity.
If he is to make his mark this season, the first hurdle he will have to jump is Sebastian Vettel, his younger team mate. Last season Vettel starred in seven races for Toro Rosso, clinching an impressive fourth place at the Chinese race. With that experience of the team, the German may well sprint ahead in the opening rounds as Bourdais learns the ropes. The Frenchman, however, is an intelligent driver and with his wealth of racing knowledge, dont discount him catching up fast once he finds his feet.