Sébastien Loeb will not make his F1 debut in the 2009 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it has been revealed – after the record-breaking multiple World Rally Champion proved unsuccessful in his bid to be granted a superlicence to be able to compete.
There has been speculation for weeks that Red Bull Racing 'junior' concern Scuderia Toro Rosso was keen to give Loeb his bow at the highest level with a one-off appearance in the inaugural grand prix to be held around the Yas Marina street circuit – and the feeling was clearly mutual.
Having already dipped his toe in the water with test outings for Renault at Paul Ricard in late 2007 and then for Red Bull – who sponsor both the Frenchman and the Citroën Total World Rally Team with whom he is endeavouring to clinch a sixth straight crown on Rally GB this weekend – at Silverstone and subsequently Barcelona last year, Loeb participated in the end-of-season GP2 Series group test at Jerez earlier this month.
However, a lack of laps due to repeated red flags and consequently the slowest time of any of the 25 drivers present on the final timesheets, hinted that he may still not be ready to take his place on the F1 grid, and now that has been confirmed.
“Seb had requested that he have the answer [about the superlicence] today,” Citroën Racing media officer Marie-Pierre Rossi is quoted as having said by F1-Live
Criteria for the successful application for a superlicence include victories in junior categories such as GP2 or F3 – neither of which Loeb has on his outstanding career CV, which aside from 52 triumphs at the highest level in world rallying has taken in a brace of sportscar appearances in the legendary, round-the-clock Le Mans 24 Hours.
It has been pointed out that 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen similarly should not have qualified for a superlicence when he jumped all the way from Formula Renault UK to the top flight back in 2001 – and the Finn has since also been allowed to take part in WRC-standard events.
Other sources suggest that Loeb simply concluded that he had little to gain and far too much to lose from an F1 venture without being able to test the STR4 prior to the race weekend. The examples of Giancarlo Fisichella and most notably Luca Badoer at Ferrari over the second half of 2009 have demonstrated all-too-well just how damaging the in-season testing ban has been for drivers needing to rapidly accustom themselves to the intricacies of a new car.
“I have no regrets because I had no ambitions,” Loeb said on his personal website, “but it would have been fun to do it.”
Compatriot and four-time F1 World Champion Alain Prost, meanwhile, backed the 35-year-old's decision not to throw himself in at the deep end and risk potentially damaging his stellar reputation.