For the first time in a number of weeks, Sébastien Bourdais has received something akin to a vote of confidence from his employers Scuderia Toro Rosso, as uncertainty remains over whether or not the multiple Champ Car king will still be a fixture on the Formula 1 grid in 2009.
The Frenchman has come under fire for much of his debut campaign in the top flight, rarely matching the pace of team-mate Sebastian Vettel and notching up a mere four points thus far to the German's 27.
He has, however, shown signs of improvement of late, with three consecutive top ten qualifying performances in Valencia, Spa and Monza – and has always urged that the 2009 regulations in the top flight are likely to suit his driving style rather better.
Though GP2 Series front-runners Bruno Senna and Sébastien Buemi, Super Aguri refugee Takuma Sato and even former double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso have all been linked to the small Faenza-based concern during the sport's annual 'silly season', it has always been stressed that the squad wishes to pair an experienced driver with a young gun – something that could ultimately play out in Bourdais' favour.
“We are exploring all possibilities and Bourdais is still in the race,” Red Bull energy drinks magnate Mateschitz – who co-owns STR alongside former grand prix star Gerhard Berger – confirmed in an interview with German publication Motorsport Aktuell
. “Overall the alternatives are not abundant.”
The Austrian billionaire also revealed that 'half of the grid is chasing' Vettel, the 21-year-old's stock and reputation having risen immeasurably in the wake of his stunning breakthrough Italian Grand Prix victory last month – a result that saw him add the record of being F1's youngest ever race-winner to those he had already claimed of youngest points-scorer and youngest pole position-sitter.
“Half of the F1 grid is chasing him,” Mateschitz is quoted as having said by F1SA
, acknowledging that Vettel's 2009 outfit Red Bull Racing will need to considerably up its game if it is to hang on to the man from Heppenheim long-term, “but Sebastian does not have any thoughts of moving out of Red Bull, [and] nor have I. He is part of our family.
“We would be disappointed if he would propose to leave. However, he has earned a right for one of the best cars in one of the best teams, so we are obliged to offer him this at Red Bull Racing next season.”
The 64-year-old also seemed to drop hints that David Coulthard – the driver whom Vettel will replace when he graduates to RBR – will indeed move across to the commentary box after he hangs up his racing helmet following the Brazilian Grand Prix at the beginning of November.
It was claimed last week that the 37-year-old Scot will be part of a five-member team presenting F1 for the BBC
in 2009, alongside – amongst others – his manager and fellow former grand prix ace Martin Brundle [see separate story – click here
“He is going to remain with us,” Mateschitz told Motorsport Aktuell
, alluding to Coulthard's consultancy role with Red Bull, “but will have commitments outside of the team as well.”