Jaime Alguersuari - Alonso's heir apparent? 20 Jul 2009
This weekend 19 year-old Jaime Alguersuari will make his debut for Toro Rosso at the Hungarian Grand Prix. As well as the pressure of being the youngest-ever driver to make a Formula One race appearance, Alguersuari is also the first Spanish teenager to follow in the footsteps of a certain Mr Fernando Alonso and join the F1 ranks.
Its a tough act to emulate, but glancing back through Barcelona-born Alguersuaris career history suggests he may be more than up to the challenge. Like Alonso, he had an early introduction to the world of motorsport, when aged eight he started karting. After demonstrating considerable skill in local competitions, a 13 year-old Alguersuari turned his attentions further afield.
Competing in several European karting series, he chalked up excellent results over the next two years including becoming the youngest-ever driver to win the Spanish championship in 2004. That same year he also dominated the Champions International Cup, secured an impressive fourth place in the Italian Open Masters and took seventh in the final standing of the European championship.
In 2005 he continued to kart, taking a second consecutive Spanish championship and finishing runner-up in the FIA World Cup Asia Pacific, but he also made his first foray into the world of single-seater racing. Competing in the Formula Junior 1.6 by Renault Italy series for Tomcat racing, Alguersuari scored two victories and finished third in the standings.
It was enough to secure a coveted place on Red Bulls young driver programme, and with boosted funds he participated in the prestigious Italian Formula Renault 2.0 series in 2006. Finishing as the top rookie, he was the youngest-ever competitor to finish on the podium. That year he also finished fifth in the Formula Renault Eurocup standings and won four races in the Formula Renault winter series.
Still aged just 17, Alguersuari completed a second year in the Italian and Eurocup Formula Renault series in 2007. Taking second place in the Italian championship after clinching three wins, and fifth in the European series, it was a valuable year of experience for the Spaniard. And in 2008 he made the step up into British Formula Three.
One of the most competitive and esteemed junior series in the world, British F3 has tested even the most experienced young drivers, and launched the careers of many, including Ayrton Senna, Jenson Button and David Coulthard. Racing with Carlin Motorsport, Alguersuari made an immediate impression. Taking six pole positions, 12 podiums and five wins, he finished the season as champion, again becoming the youngest-ever driver to manage the feat.
He combined his British F3 race season with appearances on his home turf, recording a victory on his debut in Jarama and becoming the first to win a race on Valencias new street circuit. It was an undeniably successful season for the young Spaniard, and as a reward, Red Bull invited him to take a spin in their Formula One car for a days aero test.
In 2009 he has been competing in the Formula Renault 3.5 series with Carlin Motorsport. Six race weekends (and one podium) into his season, however, he was called up by Red Bull to take over as the reserve driver for Red Bull and Toro Rosso from New Zealander Brendon Hartley. One outing as reserve driver later, and Alguersuari was announced as the replacement for departing Toro Rosso race driver Sebastien Bourdais.
On his new position, Alguersuari said: I would like to thank Red Bull for giving me this great opportunity to race in Formula One. Ever since I started racing this has been my dream and thanks to the Red Bull Junior Programme I will now realise my ambition of lining up on a Grand Prix grid.
I am aware that Im facing a very tough challenge, because coming into Formula One is never easy, coming into Formula One in the middle of a season is even harder and doing so without any testing is really difficult. But already I feel that I am getting great support from the team, who have quite a reputation for looking after rookie drivers.
As Alguersuari clearly knows, impressing on his Formula One debut will be tough, but over the course of his career hes become rather adept at finding his feet and quickly proving how good he is, clinching several youngest-ever records as hes made his way up the ranks. But well have to wait and see whether he can match his youngest-ever debut (at 19 and four months he is almost two months younger than previous record holder Mike Thackwell), and set a new record to become the youngest-ever driver to score points.
Currently held by Sebastian Vettel for his 2007 United States Grand Prix eighth-place result, aged 19 and 11 months, Alguersuari has a little room to manoeuvre to better Vettel over the coming races. And perhaps the easiest target for Alguersuari in Hungary will be to beat Alonsos first-ever race classification. The eminent Spaniard finished his debut at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix in 12th for Minardi, two laps down on race winner Michael Schumacher.