Though he was ditched in unceremonious fashion by Scuderia Toro Rosso in favour of reigning British F3 Champion Jaime Alguersuari back in the summer, Sébastien Bourdais has admitted that if he could have his time in F1 over again, he would make exactly the same decisions – as he suggested that the sport's critics and observers would do well to look beyond merely the results sheets.
Off the back of a record-breaking four consecutive drivers' crowns the other side of the Pond in the Champ Car World Series, Bourdais made his much-anticipated debut in the top flight with the Red Bull 'junior' outfit in 2008, but it was a troubled maiden campaign, saved only by a significant improvement towards the end with six top ten qualifying performances from the last seven races, and Sebastian Vettel-matching pace. As evidence of the Frenchman's struggles and ill-fortune, however, in comparison with his young wunderkind team-mate's end-of-season points tally of 35, he contrastingly notched up just four.
“Am I disappointed? Yes,” he reflected, speaking to 422race.com
. “Obviously I am. It could have been really good. It started pretty well, with STR2 last year, and at that time I remember people saying 'well, Bourdais must be really good, because we know Vettel is really good', and this and that. Then STR3 arrived and I just couldn't drive the car and Vettel was flying in it. Since it was a fast car, there was nothing to say about that; it blew me away and I couldn't do anything about it, and then everybody said 'Bourdais sucks'. They just forgot everything about the beginning of the season.
“It was a combination of things between the rear suspension choice and the aero map. It was a car which was pretty understeery in the high-speed corners and very oversteery in the low-speed corners. I just couldn't drive it. I've always needed a strong, good, stable rear end in the entry of the slow and medium-speed corners and a balanced car in high-speed [corners].
“Every time we were trying to fix the rear in the slow corners, we were increasing the understeer in high-speed [corners] and vice-versa. It was very frustrating because, in the end, nobody could do anything about it, because we were not developing the car. Obviously the driver in F1 is always responsible for the result. Everybody was complaining about my pace, but they wouldn't do anything about it.”
Following a winter of uncertainty, Bourdais was finally retained for 2009 after going head-to-head with Super Aguri F1 refugee Takuma Sato for the second STR cockpit alongside namesake Sébastien Buemi. When the STR4 proved to be another car far from to his liking, however, the 30-year-old failed to keep pace with his young rookie team-mate, and before long the daggers were out, with speculation that it was purely a question of 'when' rather than 'if' the man from Le Mans would be given the boot. Whilst accepting the reason for his sacking, the former International F3000 (now GP2 Series) champion admitted that the highly impersonal manner of it left much to be desired.
“STR4 happened to be the car that I had the most difficulties [with] and the worst time driving,” he candidly acknowledged. “They already had plans mid-season not to renew me and at the end of the day they were thinking it was a waste of time to continue, because the results were not to their expectations. Clearly the car was nowhere near where it needed to be to score a lot of points, so what do you do?
“Clearly you are very tempted to put in the driver you think you are going to put in next year, because there is very little testing and everything. I can understand why they did that. What I don't understand and I don't agree with is the way they did it, because to inform the driver, to talk about it and to find an arrangement is one thing, but to let the press know about it and then when you land in Frankfurt you have messages on your cell 'phone that say 'apparently the internet is full of rumours that this is your last race', this is not the nicest thing to do.
“Am I the first driver [to be] treated like that by Toro Rosso? Unfortunately not. You like to think that people would learn from their mistakes, but apparently they don't. In F1 there is a lot of pressure, because there is a lot of money, and the more pressure the more money, and the more money the more pressure. It's just the nature of the beast, but it doesn't mean that it should be a certain way or another. There are still things in life you should be able to do and things you shouldn't be able to do. It's all dictated by people's behaviour. Some teams do it properly and some teams don't.”
Acknowledging that he 'would do it again' – “because otherwise I would have always had the doubt...should I have tried, should I have not? Obviously I had to try; I had been waiting for that opportunity for many years” – Bourdais concluded that the age-old adage that you are only ever as good as your last race has cost him dear, as he mused that in F1 terms, his reputation is now irrevocably damaged. Unjustifiably so, he believes.
“Last impressions count,” he shrugged, “and that is a little bit sad. People too often forget that the 20 drivers who are in F1 are for sure among the 30 best drivers in the world; you do not end up in F1 because of sheer luck. Maybe there are a couple of exceptions, sometimes – paying drivers, or things like that – but when you have won championships left and right and you have a good pedigree and everything, you didn't achieve this just by sheer luck. You do so because you have talent, otherwise you don't become what you are. I think that's the toughest thing about F1 – nobody cares or wants to know why. They just look at results, because that's the only thing they can measure...”