Record-breaking multiple World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb avoided the potential ignominy of running 'between three and four seconds' off the pace in F1 had he made his competitive single-seater debut in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this coming weekend, reckons Scuderia Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost.
The 'will-he, won't-he' saga of Loeb's bow for the Red Bull 'junior' outfit in the inaugural grand prix to be held in the capital of the United Arab Emirates had rumbled on for some time prior to the revelation late last week that the Citroën star – who in defeating Ford rival Mikko Hirvonen, clinched an incredible sixth straight drivers' crown in the World Rally Championship on the Rally of Great Britain at the weekend – had failed in his bid to be issued with a superlicence by F1 governing body the FIA [see separate story – click here
That drew a line under the episode, for now at least, but despite the enthusiasm of Loeb's sponsor Red Bull for the coup – what would have undeniably been a publicity dream – Tost has admitted his relief that the eventuality never actually materialised, acknowledging that he would naturally have acquiesced with Dietrich Mateschitz's wishes, but arguing that in the absence of a serious testing stint of around 15,000km ahead of the race, the idea would have made 'little sense' from a 'sporting point-of-view'.
“If Red Bull wanted something like that for marketing reasons, then it would of course have been done,” the Austrian told German magazine Auto Motor und Sport
, “[but] the competition in F1 is higher than ever before. At worst, Loeb would have been between three and four seconds behind.
“He knows how to drive a car – you don't become rally world champion six times if you don't – but [in F1] the last second is the most difficult, which is something [multiple MotoGP World champion] Valentino Rossi realised as well.”
Both Giancarlo Fisichella – following his late-season switch from Force India to Ferrari in-place of the recovering Felipe Massa – and hapless countryman Luca Badoer can no doubt vouch for that, with neither having been able to gain any testing experience of their new mounts ahead of their competitive appearances. The consequences for the former have been disappointing, for the latter disastrous.