Exclusive interview - Toro Rossos Sebastien Bourdais 13 Feb 2009
With the guessing games regarding the empty Toro Rosso seat now over, Sebastien Bourdais is looking a lot more relaxed. And with the early pace of Red Bulls RB5 boding well for the forthcoming STR4, he awaits the new season with relish. The ever-frank Frenchman reveals how hard work, cost cuts and Dietrich Mateschitz helped him retain his drive, and shares his thoughts on KERS, the 2009 changes and his fellow drivers
Q: The confirmation has arrived at last, but you were left guessing for quite some time. What do you think helped swing the decision in your favour?
Sebastien Bourdais: I think its a combination of different things. First of all, the fact that theres been a lot of cost-cutting measures in F1, so the financial aspect of the problem became a bit less of a priority, although for sure the teams budget has been reduced. But then the costs have been dramatically reduced as well. And then obviously there is (Red Bull owner) Dietrich (Mateschitz). At some point he said, well there is a little bit of money missing, but we want you and an end to the waiting. Hes been more than influential on this.
Q: Your problems last year with the STR3 forced the engineers to look into many options, and although it did not fully turn to your advantage, at the end of the season the team had a pretty good idea of the cars potential. Was all that hard development work one thing that helped you retain the drive?
SB: I believe what (Toro Rosso team principal) Franz (Tost) has always said - the fact that they wanted me back in the car because stability in the team is very important, to know what their driver needs is very important. The fact that they worked really hard to try solutions, although we could not really fix it because it was really a conceptual problem, has nothing to do with the fact that Im still there. I think Im still here because they believe there is some potential that was left on the side of the road last year, and that we can do better this year.
Q: Late last year you said that aside from a drivers pace, his ability to bring in sponsorship money will decide who gets the Toro Rosso drive. Has that changed?
SB: Yes, like I said, it obviously has changed. The cost-cutting measures have really defined the budgets in F1, which has played into my favour dramatically. And obviously a lot more than me bringing money, because we havent really been able to find anything.
Q: What was your plan B? You must have looked at other options
SB: Plan B was either to only do Peugeot or to also find something in the United States, which we came quite close to doing. But it took so much time that eventually the Toro Rosso deal was finalised beforehand. I always said, being a professional driver, the worst thing that could happen to me, apart from the fact that I could not be a Formula One driver in 2009, would be to not have a job. Thats what I tried to prevent.
Q: This season will see many changes. So far Toro Rosso have only tested the low-downforce configuration and slick tyres. Are you happy to go back to the tyres that you have driven on for many years?
SB: I think everyone is quite familiar with slicks. Obviously everyone has been driving on slicks in every series they were racing in prior to F1. Its only in F1 that you met grooved tyres, so I wouldnt say grooved tyres have been a huge problem for me. The problem was balance, and I was happy with the STR2 and not with the STR3, although it was a much quicker car. So everything needs to be put into perspective. Its not a case of pointing to one particular problem. The problem is if you have oversteer and you dont like oversteer in slow corners, and for sure, grooved tyres didnt particularly help that. Every car has a different characteristic and my weakness was that I could not adapt to the STR3 and deal with the behaviour and the balance of the car. That goes against me, and all I can hope for is that the new car will be stronger at the rear and I can use myself a bit better.
Q: What about the other changes? Whats your opinion on KERS? So far, you havent had the chance to test it, but have you gleaned any information from the other drivers who have?
SB: No. I cant say that I have a really close relationship with the other drivers in the paddock - not close enough to be able to discuss this kind of thing with them. Obviously the only one I am close to is Sebastian Vettel and he has not even tried it yet because its not been plugged in. Its one of those things that well have to discover and tune on our own. I think if you try to understand it from others, since it will be a different system, they could tell you anything, including misleading things. I wouldnt really trust many people, other than my team members, on this! (laughs)
Q: Red Bull Racing launched their 2009 car this week. The STR4 will be very similar to the RB5. Whats your impression of the car?
SB: Its one of the nicest looking cars in the paddock, so thats good. It seems to be well born and it looks like its got a lot of potential, so hopefully it will confirm that in the future.
Q: When will the STR4 be unveiled?
SB: It should be ready in the first week of March.