Exclusive interview - Sebastien Bourdais 21 Dec 2006
After testing for Renault back in 2002, Sebastien Bourdais had almost given up waiting for another opportunity to drive a Formula One car. Then in November, Toro Rosso asked Bourdais to test in Jerez and after a four-year absence, the three-time Champ Car champion found himself back in a Formula One cockpit. Although the Frenchman is adamant he will defend his Champ Car title in America next season, he freely admits nothing quite compares to Formula One racing
Q: It looked as though your dreams of becoming a Formula One driver were fading. But, since testing with Toro Rosso, the possibility of securing a drive have significantly improved for you. How did the test come about?
Sebastien Bourdais: I guess Formula One is just about as unpredictable as it gets! I really thought my chances to make it were gone when Nicolas Todt called me. It was at the beginning of November and it went pretty quickly from there. The Scuderia Toro Rosso team seemed to be curious enough about me that they decided to test me for three days at Jerez, and it was the best opportunity I have had in four years.
Q: You recently made clear how frustrated you were that your achievements in other race series hadnt prompted a Formula One team to give you a chance. Why do you think there was so little interest?
SB: The only thing that comes to my mind is the lack of credibility of the series I raced in. But in the meantime, could I have done much different? Not really. When I won the French Formula 3 championship in 1999, nobody cared. I won F3000 with six poles in 12 races, everyone showed some interest, except the key persons in Formula One. And after winning three straight championships in Champ Car (with a 50 percent, more or less, of wins over 2004, 05 and 06) nothing was happening until Nicolas generated that opportunity with Toro Rosso.
Q: Is it a case of Formula One racing or nothing? If a drive does not materialize would you rather stay in America, than try GP2?
SB: Well, lets face it. GP2, even if it is a little quicker car than a F3000, it still is the equivalent. GP2 has been created to be a professional series, and it is just not an option for my career. I dont underestimate what I have in the US and I wont leave it at all price. I have been one lucky guy to land at Newman Haas Racing that is like a family to me. I have learned so much, particularly how to be a real pro all around: technically, press relations and a lot more. If it is not meant to be in F1 for me, I will have done everything I could, and there wont be any regret, but now and again, I hope it will materialize for 2008.
Q: What do you think is in your favour on the Formula One drivers market?
SB: I think experience will be a key factor in my favor, because today it is just not enough to be fast and reliable. I am 27, eager to start and pretty confident in my abilities.
Q: How was your test with Toro Rosso?
SB: Personally I was really happy with the way everything went. I consistently progressed through the week to finish with, I think, a very respectable 1m 21.258s (especially since we ran quite a bit of fuel onboard at all times). I very much liked the atmosphere within the team and particularly the relationship I have had with the engineers. But in the end, what I think is irrelevant and what matters is what the team now thinks of me.
Q: You are contracted to race with the Newman Haas team in 2007. If you and Toro Rosso are the perfect fit, how easy would it be for you to walk away from your contractual obligations?
SB: I have no intention of walking away from my engagements with NHR. I will be driving the McDonalds car in 2007 to try to win a fourth consecutive championship. If it does go through with Toro Rosso, it will be for 2008.
Q: Champ Car is considered to be far less focused on technology than Formula One racing. How did you find the technology gap? If any?
SB: The regulation has a drastically different approach but it doesnt mean teams are not professionals. In Champ Car, everything is done to get the best possible show, and to achieve that, officials want everyone to start with equal chances and equal equipment. Also, since there is no constructor fight within the series, the financial resources are not unlimited and cost control is an absolute necessity. Obviously, the similarities between F1 and Champ Car stop very quickly. Apart of the fact they both have a lot of downforce (over 5000lbs at 200mph) and the same kind of power, F1 doesnt compare to anything. With all the assistance onboard, I say that a F1 is actually easier to drive, but the technical solutions seem to be endless, which I really enjoyed since I have an engineering background and I love technology and its implications.
Q: Do you think the test drive was the first of many or a one-off? What are your future plans?
SB: You dont get to test a Formula One for three days if the team doesnt consider you for a near future, but that is totally in their hands and nothing is decided yet.