Scuderia Toro Rosso has finally confirmed mounting speculation that it has parted company with Sébastien Bourdais midway through the 2009 F1 World Championship – as the team prepares to give his expected replacement Jaime Alguersuari his first test run later this week.
After showing significant improvement towards the end of his maiden season in the top flight last year –ostensibly transforming himself from a tail-ender into a regular points challenger – Bourdais has struggled to maintain that progress in 2009, his sophomore campaign at the highest level.
Not only has the record-breaking multiple former Champ Car king failed to get to grips with the Faenza-based outfit's underperforming STR4, but he has also been routinely outpaced by young rookie team-mate and namesake Sébastien Buemi. Qualifying last – for the third time in nine races – for the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring last weekend, it would seem, was the final straw for the Frenchman's employers.
“In Sébastien's second year with us, the partnership has not met our expectations,” summarised STR team principal Franz Tost. “Therefore, we have decided to replace him as of the next round of the world championship, the Hungarian Grand Prix.”
Whilst the squad was more enigmatic about the identity of the man who will replace Bourdais, revealing only that 'an announcement about his replacement will be made shortly before the Hungarian Grand Prix', the widely-held view within the paddock is that it will be reigning British F3 Champion and current World Series by Renault ace Alguersuari occupying the cockpit come Budapest.
STR is due to field a heavily-modified car in Hungary – and not before time, given that the current machine has regularly languished right down at the rear of the pecking order – and Red Bull and Toro Rosso reserve driver Alguersuari is expected to test it for the first time on Friday (17 July). It is understood that the outing will take the form of a straight-line aerodynamics test in Italy, the only type of running permitted during the campaign.
“F1 is the highest championship in the world,” acknowledged the Spaniard, who at just 19 stands to become the youngest driver in the sport's official 60-year history if he makes his bow next weekend.
“Even if you have been successful in other categories, it is not easy to arrive in F1 and do the same,” he added, alluding to Bourdais' difficulties. “Everyone has his problems. We have a good relationship, but I have to concentrate on my work. Everything else I try to ignore a little bit.”
Buemi, for his part, has suggested that the specification of the revised car will be on a par with that fielded by 'parent' concern Red Bull Racing in the British Grand Prix – one that enabled Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber to storm to an unchallenged one-two finish.
“We should then have the potential to qualify between positions eight and twelve,” the Swiss star told his national press, “and our objective will be to gain points.”