Toro Rosso has confirmed Sebastien Bourdais will not race for the team at the Hungarian Grand Prix next weekend. Jaime Alguersuari is expected to take over his place.
This sparked a debate here about whether the Spanish 19-year-old is ready for F1 yet. But Red Bull’s policy of getting racers from their young driver scheme into F1 as quickly as possible has turned up at least one diamond so far.
Red Bull’s young driver scheme has racers in several major categories around the world – including Algueruari and Brendon Hartley, who were team mates in British Formula Three last year.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo is Red Bull’s representative in British F3 year. In Formula Two Red Bull is backing Mikhail Aleshin, Mirko Bortolotti and Robert Wickens. Mika Maki (Formula Three Euro Series), Daniel Juncadella (Formula BMW Europe) and Jean Eric Vergne (Formula Renault 2.0 Europe) are also on the company’s books.
No other team monitors as broad a talent pool in the junior categories as Red Bull. But how well does it work for them? These are the drivers Red Bull has promoted to its two F1 teams so far, most of whom enjoyed their backing at junior level (Coulthard, Webber and Bourdais are the exceptions):
David Coulthard – 72 starts (2005-2008)
Christian Klien – 29 (2005-2006)
Vitantonio Liuzzi* – 39 (2005-2007)
Scott Speed – 28 (2006-2007)
Robert Doornbos – 3 (2006)
Mark Webber – 44 (2007-present)
Sebastian Vettel** – 34 (2007-present)
Sebastien Bourdais – 27 (2008-present)
Sebastien Buemi – 9 (2009)
Jaime Alguersuari – ?
*Four for Red Bull and 35 for Toro Rosso
**25 for Toro Rosso and nine for Red Bull
At this stage there’s been more misses than hits. Four of the junior team drivers aren’t racing in F1 any more. Sebastien Buemi is only nine races into his F1 career and it’s too early to make a call on how well he’ll do.
You have to wonder how wise some of their decisions were. The defunct American Red Bull Driver Search – which had the motto “Searching for the future American F1 champion” – wound up after Scott Speed was placed at Toro Rosso for 2006. Unfortunately, he was dropped halfway through 2007.
But the man who replaced him – Sebastian Vettel – has clearly been the young driver programme’s greatest success story.
Other teams seem to try to cherry-pick junior drivers as best they can. Some, like Ferrari and McLaren, rarely look beyond active F1 drivers for their next hires.
Red Bull’s more proactive approach – which we might call ‘panning for gold’ – may look like a more attractive option if it can continue to unearth drivers of Vettel’s ability.
Perhaps that’s why Ferrari took the unusual step of testing three young drivers – including the impressive Bortolotti – at the end of last year?