One To Watch
Bruno Senna is one of the names being linked with the vacant seat at Toro Rosso next year as current driver Sebastian Vettel moves up to the Red Bull team.
Relatives of past champions reaching F1 themselves is nothing new – from Nelson Piquet Jnr today, to Damon Hill in the 1990s and even earlier. But, as successfulas Nelson Piquet Snr, Graham Hill and the rest were, the Senna name has a unique resonance.
Could it be about to return to Formula 1 in 2009? Here’s how Bruno Senna has forged a path towards F1.
Bruno Senna began karting when he was five, around six years before his uncle perished in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. But according to Bruno although Ayrton would observe his karting he tended not to interfere, and left Bruno to learn on his own.
Bruno was 11 when Ayrton was killed and his family understandably ended his racing career on the spot: it was non-negotiable. From 1994 until 2003 he ceased racing altogether.
He returned to karting aged 20 and found it tough – lacking the race-honed toughness of his competiutors he broke ribs on a regular basis on the rough tracks.
But as he reached his 21st birthday his determination to compete became clear to his family. At the end of 2004 he made his first race starts with Carlin in the British Formula BMW championship. In six appearances he scored a best finish of sixth.
That paved the way for a full season of Formula Three in Britain in 2005 – the same championship his uncle had won 22 years earlier. Racing for Double R (the team run by Kimi Raikkonen and Steve Robertson) he got on the podium three times and ended the year tenth overall. The following year he was third, and secured a place in GP2 for 2007.
Senna joined Arden for his first GP2 season and won his third race in the category. But after scoring four times in the first six races he hit a slump and only posted three more points finishes over the rest of the year. He ended the year eighth in the championship and second best rookie behind Kazuki Nakajima.
Over the winter of 2007/08 Senna raced in the inaugural GP2 Asia series for iSport, the team who had just won the GP2 title with Timo Glock. He finished the ten-round series fifth but the result rather masked the quality of his driving. He lost one potential win to a questionable stewards’ call and another when his team fluffed a pit stop.
The bad luck followed him into the GP2 series proper. In the fourth race of the year, at Istanbul, he hit a dog which had gotten loose on the track, and was fortunate not to suffer injury.
Senna has scored two wins so far this year – both of which invoked strong memories of his uncle’s victories in F1. He won at Monaco, where Ayrton scored a record six F1 victories, and in heavy rain at Silverstone, just as Ayrton did 20 years earlier.
He is second in the championship, 15 points behind Giorgio Pantano with eight rounds to go. But we should keep in mind the gulf in experience between the two. Pantano has over 100 starts at GP2/F3000 level to his name plus most of a year in F1. Senna’s Formula BMW, Formula Three and GP2 starts combined are short of 100.
According to Jo Ramirez, who spent many years working with Ayrton, Bruno’s talent was highly regarded by his uncle: “Ayrton always used to say, ‘You think I’m good, you watch this guy.’”
The younger Senna has a lot of making up for lost time to do in his racing career. But he could well have the talent to back up his late uncle’s high praise. With Toro Rosso boss Gerhard Berger (Ayrton’s team mate from 1990-92) taking a keen interest in Bruno’s career, he looks a strong candidate for a F1 seat in 2009.
Read more about Bruno Senna: Bruno Senna biography