Sebastien Bourdais - can the Frenchman wow his home crowd? 18 Jun 2008
For the past two seasons the French Grand Prix has been one of few European rounds of the championship without any home-grown talent on the grid. This year, however, the French fans will get the chance to be patriotic once more thanks to Toro Rossos Sebastien Bourdais.
A four-time Champ Car champion, Le Mans-born Bourdais has more than enough Gallic credentials to impress the grandstands at Magny-Cours, but can the 29 year-old really deliver in front of his home crowd?
Its going to be tough. In terms of results, Toro Rosso, currently eighth in the championship, are far from frontrunners. Bourdais has qualified no higher than 15th on the grid and has scored just two of the teams seven points - and those he was arguably lucky to get, given that his car didnt actually make the finish, despite his seventh-place classification.
In fact Bourdais has only recorded two other finishes - 15th in Bahrain and 13th at the recent Montreal event - a weekend which Bourdais himself described as the worst of his career. Recently the Frenchman also had the ignominy of crashing the teams new car at its first public outing during a multi-team test session in Barcelona, further delaying its race debut.
Its all a far cry from his glory days as the king of Champ Cars. Of course, Bourdais didnt expect to be challenging for Grand Prix wins in a Toro Rosso, but even he probably didnt think his rookie season would be quite this tough. Ever since he narrowly missed out to Fernando Alonso for a 2003 Renault race seat, Bourdais has wanted a Formula One drive. And in spite of his slow start, hes not about to give up on his ambitions any time soon.
At least part of his problem has been an outdated car. Up until last months Monaco Grand Prix, Toro Rosso were running a version of their 2007 machine. Since the arrival of the STR3, things have been looking up for the team. That said, its been Bourdais team mate, Sebastian Vettel, who has made the most of the new car, the young German scoring four points in Monte Carlo, followed by another in Canada.
Vettel may be nine years younger than Bourdais, but he started the season with eight Grand Prix starts already under his belt - a difference more telling than many had predicted, given his team mates considerable racing pedigree. In the era of Hamilton (23), Kubica (23) and Rosberg (22), Bourdais Formula One education has come relatively late - and at 29 it seems its never too late to learn.
At least he wont have to learn the circuit for his home event. Unlike some of the other venues on the Formula One calendar, he has raced at Magny-Cours before, albeit in Formula 3000. He tested the teams French set-up in testing last week and qualifying at the rural circuit is always notoriously close, which may or may not be to his advantage. Plus theres that element of je ne sais quoi that always comes with a partisan crowd willing you on. With Vettel on the ascendancy again after his difficult start to the season, Bourdais could really do with springing a surprise. Magny-Cours might just be the place to do it.