Exclusive interview - Bourdais awaits his fate 20 Nov 2008
Sebastien Bourdais is one of the most successful racing drivers of modern times - just not in Formula One. Abandoning his Stateside career to start over with Toro Rosso was a brave move - and sometimes the pressure was almost tangible. With his seat unconfirmed for 2009, he now faces competition from the likes of F1 veteran Takuma Sato and newcomer Sebastien Buemi. His times in Barcelona this week and his familiarity with the team suggest hes in, but the right driver with the right funding could yet change all that
Q: Sebastien, are you satisfied with the season you have delivered?
Sebastien Bourdais: Not very much. It was quite disappointing as far as I am concerned because obviously we had a good beginning with the STR2, where I was fairly close to Sebastian Vettel, and then with the STR3 it became a lot harder because I was facing balance issues which we really could not solve. So we had one happy driver and one fairly unhappy driver. The time difference was getting very big sometimes and you really dont look good and you cant really be satisfied with that.
Q: What was the biggest difference compared to your previous racing career outside of Formula One?
SB: The biggest difference is that I have never before been in a position where we could not fix the problems. There was always a solution. Here it is obviously very conceptual, meaning very much a design issue, and the flexibility in setting up the cars is quite narrow. So if the car has characteristics such as this year with the STR3 - not taking away anything from the potential of the car, as it is very quick as Sebastian has demonstrated and I have also been able to show from time to time, but not on a regular basis - the margin and the flexibility that a driver has to set the car up in is a lot narrower than in any other series. I had never faced that before, where I was forced to drive a car I didnt like.
Q: But clearly you improved towards the end of the season
SB: Well, first you have the phase where you desperately try to find solutions and obviously we wasted quite a bit of time doing so - that is only a good thing when you find a solution, but when there arent any solutions it is basically purely wasting your time. But I think in some ways I helped the team to understand the car better because we tried so many different things that in the end we had a very good idea of what was the best and of what you should stay away from. That actually was a good thing and in some ways might explain why we maybe had a bit better understanding (of the car) than Red Bull Racing. Then came the second phase where we tried to optimize what we thought was the best set-up on the car in terms of potential, and the third phase was starting in Japan - or actually in Singapore, but there we did not have enough downforce and I was still struggling in the car - where we had a little update that changed a bit the sensitivity of the rear of the car in the mid-speed corners and that rebalanced the car a bit between high speed and low speed. I became not happy with the car, but a bit closer to where I wanted it to be and then I got a bit closer to Sebastian and actually delivered in two races - in Japan and China where I was a bit quicker than him in the race. That was a bit of satisfaction for sure.
Q: Would you see your performance in a different light had it not been overshadowed by that of your team mate Sebastian Vettel?
SB: It has nothing to do with my team mate but everything to do with my driving style and my window of operation where I can deliver and feel confident with the car. This obviously was a bit easier for Sebastian and that was his big chance to be able to adapt to a car and to get the best out of it. I can do this as well with a car I am quite happy with, but if thats not the case its getting a bit harder.
Q: You took the risk of coming into Formula One racing on a one-year contract and now you face uncertainty over an extension. How do you cope with that?
SB: Well, it was not a one-year contract, it was a three-year deal, obviously with options. And in the end it does not matter whether you have a three-year deal or not - there is always a line in the contract which says that if they are not happy with you they can get rid of you. The fact is that there is no such thing as a sure deal in racing, whether it is Formula One or any other series. As long as it works its good for everyone and then it is all rosy, but if it doesnt work out as expected, then ciao! Thats the way it is.
Q: Toro Rosso have two race seats available and this week tested three drivers yourself included - in Barcelona. Looks pretty much like classic shoot-out
SB: No, its not a shoot-out. I am here as a reference to the team because they know me quite well, and whatever they are trying, in the end it is mainly tyre comparison stuff, tyre usage. You obviously run the 2008 car with 2009 downforce, but thats far more effective than the (actual) 09 car because it is the same downforce, yes, but quite a bit less drag. So it will produce some quite impressive lap times, but they have got nothing to do with the 2009 car - not yet, at least. So I am not here for a shoot-out. The problem is purely financial. The team needs some money and I think until they find a driver package which is fast enough and has got the funds - or they find a solution themselves - they wont find a solution for their line-up.
Q: How sure are you of staying with Toro Rosso?
SB: Absolutely not at all. As far as I am concerned I dont see a decision being made any time soon because I dont see anybody being able to guarantee money right now, or tomorrow or the next day. I think it will drag on for quite some time and I am a professional driver and at some point I will need to make sure that I have a job for next year. And when the time comes I will have to make a decision.
Q: There were three drivers testing this week, but only two race seats are available
SB: There have been three drivers in Barcelona, but Rubens (Barrichello) is on the list and Bruno (Senna) as well - if he doesnt get picked up by Honda - so anybody who has got talent and money today is a potential candidate.
Q: What do you have counting in your favour? Is it that you know the team and have worked with them on developing what has become a quality car?
SB: Well, thats the point - if nobody is able to assemble enough solid funding I guess - from what (team principal) Franz (Tost) is saying - I am number one on the list because to change two drivers in a team is always a tough thing to do, and that is not their preferred solution, for sure. Actually Franz wanted to keep both Sebastian and me, but obviously Sebastian has moved on to Red Bull and I dont have the money, so this makes things quite difficult
Q: So the times from this weeks test will have nothing to do with the driver line-up for next year?
SB: I cannot say nothing because obviously you have to show that you are the one who deserves to be there and obviously I need to show again that I am quick enough and deserve to be there - but thats not going to be enough.
Q: Did the team indicate to you when they will make a decision on their 2009 driver line-up?
SB: No, because they dont know themselves. As long as they dont have the money to run the team in a proper way they wont be able to say, because it doesnt matter whether you have talented drivers at the wheel of the car if you cant run the car.
Q: If Formula One turns out to be a dead end for you for 2009, what is your plan B?
SB: I have no idea. As far as I am concerned right now my priority is to stay here, but at some point I will have to make up my mind and take a potentially very difficult decision. In the meantime it is scary because I dont know what Ill be doing next year.