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Bruno Senna

Bruno Senna (BRA) iSport International at the Gonzalo Rodriguez Charity Painting Signing. GP2 Series, Rd 10, Preparations, Monza, Italy, Thursday 11 September 2008. Bruno Senna (BRA) Carlin Motorsport. Formula BMW UK Championship, Rockingham, England, 4-5 September 2004. Bruno Senna (BRA) Double R Dallara Mugen British Formula 3 Championship, Rd1 & Rd2, Donington Park, United Kingdom, 2-3 April 2005. Race winner Bruno Senna (BRA) Arden International celebrates on the podium. GP2 Series, Rd 2, Race 1, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday 12 May 2007. Bruno Senna (BRA) Lotus Renault GP R31 Test Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Budapest, Hungary, Friday, 29 July 2011

If ever a driver was destined to make it into Formula One racing then you could argue it was Bruno Senna. And finally in 2010 it came to pass. The nephew of the late, great three-time champion Ayrton, Senna made his race debut with the new Spanish team HRT at the mature age - in modern F1 terms at least - of 26.

Like all young boys with dreams of racing, Senna tested his mettle in a kart. Of course, not all fledgling racers could stretch their legs on a private family track alongside an F1 legend of an uncle as this Brazilian did, but then not all youngsters would have to face the shock of that same uncle’s untimely death after a crash during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

When his own father was also killed less than two years later in a motorbike accident, Senna’s life changed forever and he stopped karting and concentrated on his studies instead. For a boy who had always hoped to follow in his famous uncle’s footsteps, it was no doubt difficult to adjust to life back in the classroom, but he coped well, even starting a business degree when he left school.

But the racing bug remained, and in 2004, ten years after he had turned his back on motorsport, Senna decided to return and moved to the UK. It was a brave decision. Although his name meant he’d have no trouble finding financial backing, in the context of Fernando Alonso winning karting championships at 11 and Sebastian Vettel making his Formula One debut at 19, at 20 years-old he was already considered ancient for a novice. Ayrton’s nephew or not, many thought he’d have his work cut out.

His age, however, didn’t seem to faze the Brazilian and that season he kick started his career participating in the final three rounds of the British Formula BMW series. At Donington Park, in just his third race, he qualified second and finished sixth. That year he also competed in the non-championship Formula Renault race at Macau and took his first-ever podium with an impressive drive to second place.

In 2005 he moved onwards and upwards to the British Formula Three series, and over the season put in several strong performances, including three podiums and one pole position, to finish 10th in the championship. He stayed on for a second year of British F3 in 2006. Racing for Kimi Raikkonen’s team, Raikkonen Robertson, he enjoyed an even better season than his first.

Three pole positions, five wins, two second-places and 219 points secured him third in the championship behind British drivers Mike Conway and Oliver Jarvis. His talent behind the wheel, especially in the wet, was beyond doubt and he even found time to take part in that year’s Formula Three Masters race, finishing seventh, just behind Vettel.

It was becoming clear that Senna was more than a match for his younger, yet more experienced rivals and in 2007 he made the move up to the Formula One feeder series GP2. Racing for Arden, he acquitted himself well, taking one win and a further two podiums to finish third overall. Once again he stayed on for a second season in the series, and once again his performances improved.

Scoring six podium finishes, including two wins and three pole positions, he finished the season runner-up to Giorgio Pantano. Over the winter he’d also competed in the GP2 Asia Series, taking an additional two podiums. It seemed a Formula One drive was already a case of when, not if, and in November Honda granted him his first taste of Formula One power, inviting him to test as they eyed him as a possible 2009 driver. He covered over 140 laps of Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya as he familiarised himself with the Japanese team’s car.

Both he and the team seemed happy, but then Honda made the surprise announcement that they were withdrawing from the sport. The team morphed into Brawn GP, but the new management were understandably wary of taking too much risk, and opted to run with Honda’s existing and experienced line up of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. It looked as though Senna had missed the boat.

Bitterly disappointed, the Brazilian decided to forgo another series of open-wheeled single-seater racing for 2009, and instead focused on sports car competition, taking part in both the Le Mans 24-hour race and the Le Mans series. Behind the scenes, however, he never gave up on his Formula One dreams and in October it was announced he would be racing for brand-new team HRT in 2010.

Although pleased to have made the breakthrough into F1, it wasn’t the easiest rookie season. HRT were by far the slowest team on the grid and despite recording nine retirements, Senna compared favourably to Karun Chandhok, Sakon Yamamoto and Christian Klien who all spent time in the other HRT cockpit, recording his best result (14th) in Korea.

At the start of 2011 Senna joined the sharper end of the grid with Renault as the team’s reserve driver. But after completing one test day at Jerez in February, he had to watch the action from the sidelines. At July’s Hungarian round, however, he was given a Friday outing in the R31 and after the summer break it was announced he would make his F1 race return in Belgium, replacing Nick Heidfeld alongside Vitaly Petrov.

At the eight remaining rounds, he impressed on Saturdays, making it through to Q3 several times, but struggled on Sundays, scoring points at just one race. He was dropped for 2012 but found a new home at Williams, where he races alongside fellow South American Pastor Maldonado.