Formula 1 Insight

Thoughts on Testing in Barcelona

One of the interesting things happening at the current test in Barcelona is the progress in the battle for seats at Toro Rosso. The fact that Sebastien Bourdais is having to compete with the applicants is ridiculous but he does provide a useful yardstick in assessing them. And the big surprise has been the performance of Takuma Sato.

Paul di Resta
Paul di Resta in the DTM

It was pointed out to me recently that I left out Sato and Davidson from my rating of the drivers for 2008. I felt that they were difficult to assess since they had so few races in the year - so they were omitted deliberately from the list. But Sato's times in the STR make me think I may have been wrong to do so. He is as quick as Bourdais on the strength of the test and not as rusty as we might have expected.

Sebastien Buemi has been pretty fast as well, although lagging a bit behind the other two - perhaps to be expected from a driver completely new to F1. It leaves STR with a difficult decision to make. On times alone, they should take Bourdais and Sato but there is the matter of money to be considered as well. In fact, the team admit that this is an important factor and Sato has said that he is trying to gather as much sponsorship as possible to assist his bid. Buemi has the backing of Red Bull, of course, but where does that leave Bourdais? Possibly out of a job, is the answer.

That would be a great injustice but the STR bosses have to think about paying their way as Red Bull prepare to abandon them. Obviously, the more funding they can obtain now, the greater the possibility of their survival beyond next year. Many have suggested that Vettel should have stayed at STR, since the team continue with the powerful Ferrari engines, but I think Renault have solved their power problems and RBR will be the place to be next year. STR are likely to fall off the pace as financial troubles bite harder.

Elsewhere, the Spanish newspapers are making wild claims that Pedro de la Rosa will drive for Force India in 2009. That is just not going to happen - McLaren have obviously let FIF1 have the benefit of PDLR's development skills for a while, now that they are a customer of the Woking team. Much more likely is that Paul di Resta, McLaren's latest young find, will get at least a test with FIF1. And, judging by what Steven Roy has to say on the matter, di Resta could turn out to be another Hamilton!

Paul himself says that his goal is to be in F1 in 2009, although it is more likely that he will spend another year in DTM or perhaps get a drive in GP2. The FIF1 seat is an outside possibility only. Paul did beat Vettel in F3, however, and must be an interesting prospect therefore.

And so to Bruno Senna, testing for Honda this time out. He did well enough, although not as quick as Button yesterday and probably not sufficient for the team to justify getting rid of Barrichello yet. But at least it gives Jenson the chance to say that he is faster than Senna!


Steven Roy
I think Paul di Resta will prove to be very good but as good as Hamilton? I have said often enough that i think Hamilton will domonate the next decade. I think it is only a matter of time before the doubters start comparing him to the all time greats in the sport. I know he talks a lot about Senna but to me he is much more like Gilles Villeneuve and for my money he was better than Senna. I find that I constantly refine my opinion of drivers as time gives perspective to their performance. I have never been someone whose thoughts on drivers are locked in that time.

What I have found is that with time Senna has dropped in my estimations and Gilles and Prost have risen. Senna and Prost have only moved slightly but ever time I look at what Gilles did he jumps further. I never expected to compare another driver to Gilles but Lewis is as close as I have seen.

Sebastian Vettel if you believe the hype is potentially as good as Hamilton and at the very least is destined fr great things. Paul di Resta was his team mate when Vettel was runner up in the F3 Euroseries. Paul was the champion. So logically he is better than Vettel.

Bruno Senna on paper at least had a very good day today. He set a faster time than Lucas di Grassi managed in the same car yesterday but that may be due to conditions. However Bruno was only 0.3 seconds slower than Jenson while Lucas yesterday was 0.5 seconds off. His GP2 performances this season have many people convinced that di Grassi is the more worthy candidate for the honda seat but it should be remembered that he spent the previous winter doing all the development driving for the new GP2 car so he should have looked good in it. Now when they have equal experience of the car despite di Grassi having some Renault testing experience and Bruno never having driven a remotely recent F1 car or even a car with tyre warmers before their relative performance is a bit different.
Date Added: 19/11/2008

The test confirms what I have thought for a while, Sato is better than most people think. He had some ”wild” first years and that is what many people still remember. I think, he actually did a great job with Super Aguri, when you think of what kind of car they had and his last year at BAR was also okay.

And I really hope they keep Bourdais. He deserves it.

I also don't think Pedro de la Rosa will be a Force India driver, but he can learn the team a lot, but perhaps most important for McLaren, he can get some information about the Ferrari engine.

I am not sure about what is best for Honda. If it still will be a development year then they should keep Rubens because of his experience. They early started to concentrate the development on the new car, so if the new car is good then a new young fast driver could be the best choice, but I don't have any special "feelings" for any of them.

Date Added: 19/11/2008

Mr Soap
I don't know, Sennas performance on track was only adequate. A lot of it will come down to how well he interacted with the team.

Meanwhile, the Toro Rosso situation is somewhat trying my patience. Last year, Bourdais showed himself to be a good driver, but rather beset by extremely bad luck -Engine failure from fourth in Aus, penalty in Fuji, bad luck at the end of Spa, bad, car failure on the grid at Monza and Trulli punting him off at Brazil lead to his total point haul being considerably lower than it deserved to be. Add to that proven crednetials, having come on the strength of 4 straighth championships. It's something of a shame that STR don't design their own chassis, as I think they'd appreciate him a whole lot more were that the case.

The two people they're thinking of replacing him with... well.
Buemi wasn't stunning in GP2. Far from it. (I'd agree with Ron Dennis when he said that none of this years GP2 drivers were ready for F1 yet) If it weren't for him being a RB development driver, he wouldn't even be being considered. And Sato... well, it was nice to have one year without a driver who was only in there due to their wallet, I suppose.
Date Added: 19/11/2008

Pink Peril
I really do think STR should sign Sato.

He has settled down a lot since his early kamikaze days, and I was impressed with his driving at Super Aguri.

Even if he is still a little - untamed - shall we say, he is always good for livening things up at least.

Date Added: 19/11/2008

Steven: My estimation of Gilles has risen over the years but he is still some way behind Senna. There was just something about watching Senna in full flow that was not present in any other driver I have seen - impossible to pinpoint but immediately recognisable. There have been flashes of that same apparently effortless speed in other drivers (Hakkinen reminded me of Ayrton on rare occasions) but no one is able to keep it going the way Senna could.

Gilles was very different in style - he looked fast but you could see that he was dragging that car around the track against its will. Perhaps that was because he never had a car that did not need to be forced to perform well but we can never know now. And Senna made it look easy whatever rubbish he was given to drive...
Date Added: 19/11/2008

Hezla: I agree - I think the best driving team for STR would be Bourdais and Sato. But whether Berger will see it that way is another thing entirely...

As for Honda, I would keep Barrichello unless Bourdais loses his seat at STR.
Date Added: 19/11/2008

Mr Soap: I think Bruno Senna really needs another year of GP2 before he is really ready for F1. He was a late starter and too hasty an ascent can ruin a driver - just ask Jos Verstappen.
Date Added: 19/11/2008

Peril: Yes, it would be nice to see Sato back in F1 - but only if it is not at the expense of Bourdais. ;)
Date Added: 19/11/2008

I agree with Mr Soap on the Bourdais situation. I try not to comment about it because I just can't understand why he wasn't secured already and I think it was suggested here that another team should have stolen him away from Berger. Minus all the bad luck I was always under the impression that Bourdais had been as good as Vettel if not outperforming him before bad luck and the new STR. Also he changed around his season by coming to grips with the car which he promised he would do while speaking about the car's shortcomings which suggests the guy knows what he is doing.

Looking at the times today I think Senna should get the nod on Di Grassi even if Di Grassi looked better in GP2. However I am not sure either of them should have a race seat just yet.

I watched some GP2 last season and I really don't think Buemi is ready for F1 in 2009.

Date Added: 19/11/2008

Agrred on all counts, Corey. Bourdais is certainly worth a drive in F1 and STR would be crazy to let him go. And the GP2 graduates really are not ready yet.
Date Added: 19/11/2008

I absolutely agree on your assessment of 'Sea Bass'. He deserves to keep his ride and should not have to audition to keep his seat for next year.

However, if F1 is not 'bright' enough to keep him employed, he is always welcome back 'home' in the States. I watched him race for 4 years over here and he is THAT good. Fast and really made a mistake. I expect him to make much fewer mistakes next year in F1, assuming he keeps his ride.

The slick tires and new rules will help him, I feel. having a year to learn the 'new' tracks for him will also make him stronger.

His driving performances earned my respect as he raced on to 4 consecutive Championships.

Not to mention, he did quite well in his first attempt at Indy in his in a new style car and a very high speed oval. Something not usually associated with a French driver.

Just ask Nigel Mansell how easy it is to loss at Indy! Emerson Fittipaldi is still smiling from when he 'snuckered' Ol' Nig to beat him to the flag in the early '90's.

Reining World Champion or not, it is a different world and a different style of racing.
Date Added: 20/11/2008

Steven Roy

I think there are two kinds of great driver. The Clark, Stewart, Prost type who make it loo ridiculously easy and convince you that you could do that and the Villeneuve, Senna type whose style convinces you that no, tou never could.

I understand what you are saying about the magic of Senna. I was as captivated watching him. I have said many times in recent years since all the changes to qualifying have been made that watching Senna prepare for his final run was more gripping, more interesting and in some ways more exciting than watching Schumacher or the rest actually drive a qualifying lap. The guy had something magical about him.

But the popular belief is that he out-performed Prost over two seasons and his legend is founded on that. The truth is that they won one championship each and the only reason Senna won one was because of the points system in place at the time. Only a driver's best 11 scores counted in 1988 and McLaren had the unbeatable MP4/4 so Senna won 8 races and Prost won 7. As a result Senna was champion but over the full season Prost comfortably out-scored him. So in two seasons together Prost scored more points in each season.

In the end the thing that drove Prost out of McLaren was not Senna's performance but his utter ruthlessness and a few details in his contract. History however would lead you to believe that Prost couldn't live with his pace and that simply isn't the case. Regardless of the Senna legend Prost out-scored him in the two seasons they were team mates.

I think people underestimate Gilles because he drove so many Ferraris that were unbelievably bad but you have to look at what he did with them and what he did in the occasional good car he drove. Look at his first GP. Everyone talks about all the spins in practise when he was trying to find the limit of a car he had never driven on a track he had never seen before. Imagine taking a Formula Atlantic or Formula 3 driver now and entering them in a GP in the middle of the season when they have never driven an F1 car at all and have never seen the track they will race on. Despite that and despite the factthat he had an M23 and the two normal McLaren drivers had M26s his performance was stunning and his composure and self-control extraordinary.

This is the guy who was supposed to be a hot head who drove with his heart not his head but in a race which he had no experience whatever and where he was beating drivers who were very highly rated he not only noticed the temperature gauge was high but he pitted to have it checked out. Most young drivers would have races on but in his first race in F1 he had the composure and maturity to do the right thing. As it happened it was a faulty gauge. Had he not pitted he would have finished 4th in an out of date car.
Date Added: 20/11/2008

Aracer: There is no doubt that Sea Bass has received offers for next year from the States - he said so earlier in an effort to hurry STR up. But I would be sorry to see him leave F1 - I think he has great potential and could prove a front runner in years to come. Unfortunately, it seems it's all coming down to money in the end...
Date Added: 20/11/2008

Steven: I do think that Senna blew Prost away when they were team mates at McLaren. If we only consider points, we are looking at reliability of the car more than anything else. Senna was almost invariably quicker than Prost everywhere - but suffered by far the majority of McLaren breakages in both years. Without those retirements, Prost would have done well to win a race a year, Senna was that much faster.

I know you can say that keeping the car together for the whole race distance is a driving skill (and I would not argue against Prost being the master of this) but there is also luck to be considered. As Kovalainen found out this year, it is quite possible for all the breakages to happen to one driver on a team and Senna had them all while Prost was his team mate. Prost was the luckiest driver ever until Schumacher came along, whereas Senna's luck was about average. And the thing is, he did become champion in one of those years, in spite of his DNFs.

For pure speed and skill, I do not think I have ever seen a driver of the calibre of Senna, not even Gilles. Not even you, Steven, can convince me otherwise. ;)
Date Added: 20/11/2008

Senna was a thug. Any driver, Senna, Schumacher who would deliberately cause an accident to secure a championship is completely undeserving. If either of them had done that in a US series they would have been docked enough points to guarantee they could not win the championship. It's not enough to be fast, you need to win fairly, on the track. Neither of thesae drivers figure in my top ten of all time, regardless of their records. And as people have endlessly pointed out about Kimi this year: it's not about being fast, it's about winning races. It doesn't matter if you are quick if you overstress some part of the car and retire. Maybe Prost knew if you went that fast start to finish the car wouldn't last and he was smart enough to back off. I have NO admiration for Senna, Yuck!!
Date Added: 21/11/2008

Sorry, Lonny, I cannot agree that Senna was a thug. The one deliberate accident he had with Prost was in retaliation for what Prost had done to him the year before - so you would have to include Prost in your definition. The fact is that Senna did not have to act like a thug on the track; when other drivers saw him coming, all the fight went out of them.

As for his succession of mechanical failures, they were not of the kind that results from overstressing the car. Prost may have had better reliability through being as fussy as hell about his car but Senna's lesser concern stemmed mainly from his confidence that he could drive through any minor problems that arose. And he did demonstrate this on a number of occasions, once even keeping his lap times good enough after the loss of a gear to keep Prost unaware that he had a problem.

As I said to Steven, Senna was the biz, as far as I am concerned!
Date Added: 21/11/2008

Senna/Prost Suzuka accident was not a high moment on Senna's career for sure, but one should have put it under context: Unlike Schumacher, Senna was leading Prost by a decent enough margin that he could afford to lose in Suzuka (and he also had a faster car and could certainly overtake Prost later in the race), but Balestre had stole a win from him there the previous year (I do think Prost was a worthy champion and would likely win anyway, but Balestre's actions in Suzuka that year were much worse than anything that happened this season) and there were an agreement between the drivers to swap sides on the grid because the pole position had started in the dirty side of the track in previous years, but after Senna was #1 in qualifying, Balestre decided that the grid would be kept as usual (the swap finally happen in 91). That was the action by a driver that was very tired to have to outrace not only a very fast driver like Prost, but FISA as well. I wish he didn't did it, but I don't think it's that hard to understand his reasons (on the other hand I'm always horrified by some Senna fans here that believe he was more than right in his actions).
Date Added: 21/11/2008

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