Other than the controversy over whether triple world drivers’ champion Sebastian Vettel did, or did not, overtake under yellow flags on his way to sixth place, and the 2012 championship, in last weekend’s Brazilian grand prix, the big Formula 1 story of last week was Wednesday’s announcement by Williams of their 2013 driver line-up. As had been widely tipped to be the case, reserve driver Valtteri Bottas was promoted to a race seat for 2013, alongside Pastor Maldonado. This, of course, meant that Bruno Senna once again found himself, at least temporarily, without a drive for the third season in a row.
It seems that Senna, despite his relative consistency and sponsorship money, has lost out to a rising star at Williams and a 2012 team-mate who was able to bring more money and more outright pace than the Brazilian. Most of all, though, Senna loses out because he hasn’t been able to live up to the huge weight of expectation that comes with his family name, a family name he shares with his late, great, triple world drivers’ championship winning uncle, Ayrton.
Ayrton Senna was perhaps the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time. A man who was blessed with an amazing magnetic personality and a natural charisma, as well as a phenomenal natural driving talent and ability. Other drivers have won more world championships than Ayrton, but none inspire the same awe. His tragic death at the 1994 San Marino grand prix at Imola has only served to increase the esteem in which he is held by the vast majority of F1 fans.
While Bruno has inevitably benefited from his family name as he has risen through the ranks of motorsport, he now finds himself in an unenviable position having made it to Formula 1 . There must be an almost unbearable weight of expectation on his shoulders. Bruno is the living embodiment of Ayrton’s legacy. He carries the Senna name in Formula 1, and with it the expectation that he will be able to show the same brilliance behind the wheel as his uncle had more than a decade before Bruno entered the pinnacle of motorsport.
How can Bruno ever live up to such a level of expectation? Ayrton was quite simply a one-off. A once in a generation talent, who few, if any, could ever live up to. Following Ayrton’s death, Bruno’s career came to an abrupt halt as his family, understandably given his uncle’s tragic death, didn’t want to see him racing. His father’s death, just two years after Ayrton’s, in a motorcycle accident in 1996 must have only served to strengthen his family’s protective instincts.
It was not until 10 years after his uncle’s death that Bruno, at the age of 21 re-entered competitive motorsport, having missed out on vital development behind the wheel during his teenage years. Nevertheless, by 2006 Bruno had made it into British Formula 3, winning almost a quarter of his 22 races on his way to third in the championship. Two years later he finished runner-up in the GP2 championship, the Formula 1 feeder series, in his second year at that level.
Bruno, despite the weight of expectation that the name Senna brings, and despite the huge gap in his driving development, was capturing the attention of Formula 1 teams. His performances led to a test at Barcelona with F1 team Honda in November 2008. Bruno lapped within 0.3 seconds of race driver, and future Formula 1 world drivers’ champion, Jenson Button, over the course of the three-day test. He looked set to secure a race drive with the team, before Honda pulled out of F1 and the team morphed into Brawn GP, only securing its future less than a month before the start of the 2009 season.
Given the lack of testing that Brawn GP was able to undertake before the start of the season, team owner Ross Brawn opted to retain the experience of Bruno’s compatriot, Rubens Barrichello, alongside Button. This left Bruno without a Formula 1 drive in 2009, and he was forced to watch from the sidelines as the team took both the drivers’ and constructors’ world championships in what turned out to be their only season in the sport. How different might Bruno’s career have been had Honda stayed in Formula one, or had Brawn decided to take a risk on him?
As it was, Bruno had to wait until 2010 for his Formula 1 chance. However, this chance came with Hispania Racing, one of the sport’s three new teams. The team was underprepared and extremely slow, and Bruno didn’t even get to compete in a full season as the team brought in other drivers in certain races. Bruno was unable to prove what he could do and lost his drive with the team at the end of the season, in favour of drivers with more funding.
Having sat out most of the 2011, Bruno drove for Lotus as a mid-season replacement for Nick Heidfeld. Despite a strong start to the season, Lotus were struggling when Bruno joined them, having failed to develop what had been a promising car. Nevertheless, despite no testing, Bruno managed to score his first Formula 1 points at the Italian grand prix, in just his second race for the team.
However, Bruno was not retained by Lotus for 2012 and it looked like he might be without a Formula 1 drive yet again until he secured the last seat on the grid, alongside Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado at Williams in mid-January, only three weeks ahead of the first pre-season test at Jerez on 9 February. This, of course, meant that Bruno had absolutely no input into the design of the 2012 Williams, the FW34. This, coupled with his relative inexperience – he had only competed in 26 Formula 1 races, spread across the 2010 and 2011 seasons, before the start of 2012, 18 of those with minnows HRT in 2010 – meant that he was always likely to struggle against a driver who had been with the team for a year and would have had an input into the design and the development of their 2012 car.
Despite these handicaps, and the fact that his time behind the wheel of the car was further limited by having to hand his car over to Bottas for 15 Friday morning free practice sessions, Bruno was a consistent points scorer for Williams in 2012. He commented last week that “It has been extremely satisfying to be the team’s most regular point scorer”, having scored in eight of the 20 races, compared to just five for his team-mate. However, Bruno suffered in comparison to his team-mate because Maldonado was seen as the quicker of the two, having performed far more strongly in qualifying and having taken the team’s first win since 2004, with victory in the Spanish grand prix.
Qualifying, in particular was Bruno’s Achilles heel in 2012, but this was perhaps not unsurprising given that his running, and car set-up, time was limited by having to hand the car over to Bottas in free practice sessions. It was no surprise to anyone, least of all Bruno, that Bottas was given the nod ahead of him for 2013. Commenting after Williams’s announcement, Bruno said “Since the beginning of my programme with Williams I accepted that I had to share the car with Valtteri for 15 Fridays as a part of his preparation for a likely debut in 2013”.
If Bruno is to continue in F1 in 2013, it’s going to be with his fourth team in four seasons. Caterham looks to be his most likely destination, although there are other possibilities like Force India, but yet again he will have to contend with having little input into the design and development of whatever car he drives. I personally hope that he is given the chance to show what he can do on a level playing field in 2013. He is a fast, consistent driver, more than worthy of his place in Formula 1. What he isn’t, though, is his uncle Ayrton. Who could be?