Toro Rosso has confirmed today that 19 year old Jaime Alguesuari will replace Sebastien Bourdais from this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix onwards.
In a frank and open statement by the team, Alguersuari admitted that this would be one of the most difficult debuts ever in F1, while team boss Franz Tost said that he expects ‘nothing’ from the teenager, at least for the first three races. In other words, “There’s no pressure, but there is,”
Tost said, “I am well aware that over the next few months the team and Jaime will face a major challenge, especially because of the testing ban. But Red Bull is always ready for a new challenge. I do not expect anything from him for at least his first three races, during which he has to get used to the car, the team and to the Formula 1 environment.”
Alguersuari said, “I am aware that I’m facing a very tough challenge, because coming into Formula 1 is never easy, coming into Formula 1 in the middle of a season is even harder and doing so without any testing is really difficult. But already I feel that I am getting great support from the team, who have quite a reputation for looking after rookie drivers.”
Starting mid season is extremely tricky, even for a driver with some experience, if you think back to the problems Justin Wilson had moving from Minardi to Jaguar mid-season, or Anthony Davidson had joining Minardi mid season.
Against that, in a good car, anything is possible and Sebastian Vettel did a great job to score a point on his debut for BMW Sauber at Indianapolis in 2007. But the big difference there was that he was their test driver and had some knowledge and experience of the car.
Alguersuari is a rookie in the strictest sense of the word. He doesn’t know the F1 environment, has almost no experience of the cars and has to learn everything from scratch. It’s one of those situations where half of him will be saying, “I must take this opportunity, you never know if another will come along,” but the other half of him is saying, “The chances of failure are higher than the chances of success and my career may be over by the age of 20.”
There are many examples of that down the years and huge talent is no guarantee of getting over the hurdle. Look at Tommy Byrne, who took the first F1 seat offered to him, showed badly and never bounced back.
Alguersuari had been toiling in World Series by Renault this season after winning the British F3 championship last season. F1 is on a whole different level from anything else in motor sport, not least the mental side. At the end of the day the key questions are 1) Is he fast enough? and 2) has he got a strong enough head? If the team and the F1 paddock sees enough to believe that the answer to both is yes, then he will have time to mature.
F1 is so competitive now that young drivers have little choice but to take the offer when it comes. Sometimes drivers are ready, like Vettel or Jenson Button or Kimi Raikkonen. This one doesn’t seem ready to me, but I look forward to being proved wrong.