I can’t remember the last season to see such a diverse crop of rookies. There’s a four-times Champ Car champion, a guy who actually made his F1 debut four years ago then disappeared off into the wilderness, one who looks fast but wild and is perhaps reaching F1 12 months too soon, and one who’s taken the ‘normal’ route with a couple of F3 titles to his name and a decent showing in GP2.
Oh, and the last two also have F1 drivers for dads, who were team mates at Lotus in 1988.
So how will Sebastien Bourdais, Timo Glock, Nelson Piquet Jnr and Kazuki Nakajima fair in their first full seasons of F1 racing?
Sebastien Bourdais – The Frenchman swept all before him in Champ Car, winning four titles and 31 races from 73 starts. That’s an excellent record, but the fact that the series just got taken over by the Indy Racing League tells you how strong it and the competition was.
Bourdais is definitely quick and in testing has looked to be on team mate Sebastian Vettel’s pace. He was immensely popular within his Newman-Haas-Lanigan racing team in the States, and he will want to cultivate the same relationship at Toro Rosso.
But he also gained a reputation in America for being a bit of a bad loser, despite the fact he didn’t do an awful lot of losing over there. Why did he feel the need to indulge in petty squabbles with Paul Tracy even as he blew him into the weeds? He even managed to get the crowd booing him at Mont Tremblant last year after slagging off Robert Doornbos.
Timo Glock – Glock got to F1 the hard way. He made a few starts for Jordan in 2004 as a stand-in for Giorgio Pantano and scored points on his début at Montreal following the disqualification of several cars in front of him. He dropped off the F1 radar after that but taking a drive with one of GP2′s least competitive teams put him in the place to move up to the front when the opportunity arose.
Glock is rapid when he gets the car hooked up but he’s also a tough, instinctive, opportunistic racer in the Lewis Hamilton mould – witness their thrilling battle in GP2 at Istanbul in 2006, and Glock’s peach of a last-lap pass to win at Hockenheim in the same year. Looking at Toyota’s testing times he’s likely to end up at the tail of the midfield, which could be highly entertaining.
Regardless, Piquet Jnr may have had the support of a three times champion father but he’s made it into F1 on merit, paying his dues with F3 titles, a fine second to Hamilton in GP2′s super-competitive 2006 season, and a year’s testing with Renault.
But Piquet Jnr is stepping into F1 as Fernando Alonso’s team mate and we all know how well Alonso got on with his last one. If Piquet Jnr proves as quick as he thinks he is he’ll need to keep Alonso sweet and such diplomatic niceties were hardly his father’s forte. Just ask Nigel Mansell…
Kazuki Nakajima – Who knows what political manoeuvrings go on between Williams and their engine suppliers Toyota, whom Williams regularly beat using the Japanese engines in 2007? Some rumours said Toyota tried to pinch Nico Rosberg off Williams. It’s not hard to imagine that Kazuki Nakajima, a Toyota man for most of his racing career, was forced on the Williams team for political reasons.
That would do him a disservice, however, as he seems good enough to get into F1 on merit, although perhaps in 2009 rather than 2008. He was the top rookie in GP2 last year but didn’t actually win a race, and made a bad error taking Karun Chandhok out at Istanbul.
But he also proved he can do consistency with five podiums in a row in the middle of the year. His F1 debut in the last race of 2007 was unfortunately remembered more for him hitting his pit crew than his fifth fastest race lap or his string of overtaking moves. And he seems to have been keeping Rosberg honest in testing.
What about Sebastien Vettel? – The Toro Rosso driver is also starting his first full season of F1, but compared to these guys he looks like a veteran. Although he impressed with a fine drive in Shanghai he was usually fractionally slower than Vitantonio Liuzzi last year, and he did commit that horrible howler at Fuji. For me, the jury’s still out on Vettel.
What do you think of the 2008 rookies?