Exclusive interview - Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais 01 Feb 2008
For the first time since Franck Montagny waved goodbye to his Super Aguri race seat in July 2006, a French driver will once again grace the Formula One grid this year when the new season gets underway in March.
After waiting since 2000 to land a Formula One drive Sebastien Bourdais is keen to impress. And having clinched his fourth Champ Car title last year, he certainly has more than enough of that elusive winners mentality demanded by team co-owner Gerhard Berger...
Q: You have become so used to being a winner, always at the very front of the Champ Car grid, but that is unlikely to happen this year. How have you prepared for this psychologically?
Sebastien Bourdais: Well, its obviously a given thing, but its also a huge opportunity for me - not only professionally but as a new stage in my life by being able to come back with my family to Europe. It was the right time as I wanted to do something other than Champ Car. I felt that it was time for me to move on. I had my best years so far with those guys in the States but sometimes you have to go and search for other challenges. And then came the chance to race in Formula One - finally - and become part of the Red Bull family, so I will definitely give it my very best.
Q: You say finally - so has it been a dream you have been chasing for some time?
SB: Yeah, Ive been chasing it since 2000 when I started racing internationally in Formula 3000. Formula One was always on my mind and it took a long time coming. Its the top of motorsport and that is where you want to be, so you take any detour if it finally gets you there.
Q: What do you think will find the biggest difference between life in Champ Cars and life in Formula One racing?
SB: So far I have only been living through testing so its difficult for me to say right now. But at the end of the day its the same job, its just a much bigger team. In the work itself it is very similar: you get in the car and try to optimise set-up and go after the best lap time. Of course the races will be different. Not so many caution flags as we had in the States - and that I got used to so Ive got to reset myself to new standards, I guess. At the moment I feel lucky as the team atmosphere is great. Everything else will fall into the right place once the season has started.
Q: Your team mate, Sebastian Vettel, has an advantage over you in terms of Formula One race experience. Do you think that will make a difference this season or do you expect to out-pace him straight away?
SB: He knows what to do in a Formula One car and he is doing it well. Hes got no complex at all - he will just go for it. And for me its the same. We are working together. We want to get the team to the best level. Sure when it comes to qualifying and the race it is all for yourself. Your team mate is your first opponent because he is the only one who has the same equipment, so he is your benchmark. At the moment we are quite close - so lets wait and see what happens when the first race weekend comes. True, he knows a lot more tracks than I do, hes got the experience with the team, how it functions with the qualifying mode. So if I can start at his level I will be quite happy.
Q: The tests have shown so far that the transition from Champ Car to Toro Rosso was no big deal. Have you been surprised to be doing so well?
SB: Well, these are two different worlds. Champ Car is a series where everybody pretty much has the same equipment - tyres, engines and chassis. In Formula One everything is wide open. Every time you jump in the car there is something different whereas in Champ Car it more or less stayed the same over the last four years. Formula One is a totally different approach. Here the engineers constantly think to improve the pace of the car with new parts. The performance of the car is not that different - what is really different is the weight. Champ Cars are 150 to 200 kilograms heavier and that equates to about four to five seconds on the track. That changes the driving style - with a Formula One car you brake later and in the fast corners you can push a little bit more. It still feels different, but then I am not at the beginning of my career so it should not be a big deal to jump into a new car.
Q: With the backdrop of your American heritage, can you understand the safety concerns surrounding the ban on traction control (TC)?
SB: In general it never made sense to me to have TC in Formula One. We are supposed to be the best drivers on this planet. We all come from Formulae without traction control and nobody complains. And then we come into Formula One and suddenly it was the easiest car to drive because there was nothing to do with the right foot. And in fact when I tested last year it was a bit frustrating for me as I felt I was not 100 percent in control of the car. All the discussions about not driving in the wet without TC if we have such discussions we should not be here. For myself I have discovered that in wet conditions the car drives superbly - it is super balanced.
Q: Formula One racing is more demanding than Champ Car - more test sessions, more races and more media attention. How are you preparing for the season ahead, both mentally and physically?
SB: True, its a bit more of everything. But on the other hand we drivers in Champ Car had to help the series a lot - to do a lot of promotion to keep it alive whereas Formula One is self selling. And as Ive been the champion for four consecutive years the media attention now is rather less than in the States. True the travelling is more - Australia, Malaysia, Bahrain, back to Europe, Canada, Europe, Asia again and then Brazil - but that is manageable as all the other drivers have proved. And as this is what I want to do, it would be absurd to complain.
Q: And how is life in Switzerland? Are you already settled?
SB: It is pretty new. We moved in before the first Jerez test this year but I cannot say that I have settled. Not really. So far I have only spent a few days there.