Scuderia Toro Rosso refugee Sébastien Bourdais has wasted little time in answering questions about where his career heads next after being evicted from Formula 1 – in signing to compete for Spanish club FC Sevilla in the football-related Superleague Formula by Sonangol.
The record-breaking former multiple Champ Car king was sacked by Toro Rosso midway through the 2009 F1 campaign and replaced by rookie Jaime Alguersuari, after his performances failed to live up to the expectations of the Red Bull 'junior' outfit and he was unable to build upon the encouraging improvements he had made towards the end of his maiden season in the top flight in 2008.
Though the divorce was far from an amicable one – with Bourdais initially threatening to take legal action against his former employers for unfair dismissal, ultimately settled out-of-court – the 30-year-old has swiftly bounced back. Following a successful half-day's test at Magny-Cours last week with British squad Ultimate – during which he recorded excellent lap times at the wheel of the 750bhp V12-powered Elan chassis – he has put pen to paper to race in the final three rounds of the championship, starting at Estoril in Portugal this weekend and continuing at Monza in Italy on 7-8 October and Jarama in Spain on 7-8 November.
“For a driver, Superleague Formula is the best alternative to F1,” asserted the man from Le Mans, who confessed to being a fan of both his home football team and the French national side. “Today, it's the only other championship in Europe to offer a driver the possibility of racing single-seaters at a high, professional level.
“I am also a firm believer in the concept of merging motorsport and football. It's a partnership that offers enormous potential and should have a good future. Once the championship is established and more widely known, I am sure Superleague Formula will be very strong.
“The test at Magny-Cours made me realise just how fun the car is to drive. An F1 car is faster because it's lighter, but the Elan V12 happens to be a very competitive car, benefiting from a lot of aerodynamic downforce and a very potent engine, driveable and powerful across the rev range and offering a large scope of usage. It's a consistent single-seater that's a pleasure to drive.
“I will discover a qualifying system which is different to what I've been used to, as it requires a very tactical approach. As far as the three races go, the totally reversed grid for the second reminds me of Formula Campus. This creates a lot of overtaking opportunities which improves the overall show on-track, especially if the objective is to secure a place in the Super Final. To some degree, though, Superleague Formula reminds me of racing in Champ Cars.
“My desire is evidently to be competitive straight away at Estoril. Now, I only did a few laps in the car and the team is quite new to the championship, so to win as soon as my first race will not be easy for sure. I also want to have fun, which hasn't often been the case for me during this last year...”
Indeed, whilst he has triumphed in practically every category he has ever entered, F1 risks becoming 'the one that got away' for Monsieur Bourdais, after just 27 starts at the highest level. His successes in Formula 3 – in which he remains the youngest-ever champion in his country's domestic series – International F3000 (now GP2) and Champ Cars, however, Superleague Formula President Alex Andreu is convinced that the sometime sportscar star has what it takes to shine and battle it out wheel-to-wheel on the track against fellow ex-grand prix aces Giorgio Pantano, Antonio Pizzonia, Enrique Bernoldi and Robert Doornbos amongst a number of up-and-coming young hopefuls.
“Superleague Formula is very happy and very proud to welcome a driver with as many titles as Sébastien Bourdais,” underlined Andreu. “His decision was made after testing our car at the Magny-Cours circuit, who I would like to thank for believing in our project and participating in its development.
“Our objective is to attract the best professional drivers to our series; Giorgio Pantano, Antonio Pizzonia and today Sébastien Bourdais are amongst these. We're also hopeful that others will join us shortly. The more drivers we have of their calibre, the more Superleague Formula will carve its rightful place in the modern motorsport landscape, as well as offering a quality show to its fans.”
FC Sevilla currently sits bottom of the Superleague Formula table, with just 28 points to its credit to-date.