Rally champion Sebastien Loeb will not appear behind the wheel of a Toro Rosso next weekend in the F1 season finale in Abu Dhabi, it has been announced.
According to colleagues in the French media, Loeb has not been able to get a superlicence and so cannot race.
Despite being a five times world rally champion and a competitor in the Le Mans 24 hours, Loeb has not fulfilled the criteria for qualification, such as victories in GP2 or success in a national F3 series. This seems a little unfair given that F1 drivers like Kimi Raikkonen are allowed to go the other way and take part in world championship rallies.
The news was broken by Marie-Pierre Rossi of the Citroen press department, but it seems odd that Loeb would have let things get this far before finding himself with no licence.
However other drivers have managed to get into F1 without fulfilling those criteria, most notably Raikkonen, who came to F1 from Formula Renault and was approved by the superlicence judging panel of the time, which was made up of Max Mosley, Ron Dennis and Jean Todt. Loeb could have taken his case to their successors, but appears to have opted not to.
“It is absolutely impossible to perform just like that on a circuit you don’t know when you’ve been a rally driver your whole career,” said four times world champion Alain Prost yesterday. “These are completely different disciplines. That takes nothing away from his talent.”
The connections to make the transfer were strong, especially on the commercial side; Loeb is backed by Red Bull, the owner of Toro Rosso and Abu Dhabi are big backers of the WRC. Loeb has tested for Toro Rosso last winter and spent time in their simulator. Through the summer he was very keen on the idea of having a go in the final race, after the rally season has ended.
Earlier this month he took part in the GP2 test at Jerez and afterwards denied that the test was a warm-up for Abu Dhabi,
“”I’m just doing this because I have the chance. I would like to do the [F1] race, but nothing has changed – it’s the same every day.”
Loeb was not particularly competitive in the test and may have decided that, although it might be fun to race in F1, he would be likely to trail some way behind the field. This season has been one of the toughest ever for drivers coming in to F1 with no testing and in cars which are much more tricky for rookies to drive than the F1 cars of a year ago with grooved tyres and more downforce.
Look at how Grosjean and Alguersuari have got on, let alone more experienced drivers like Bourdais and Piquet. And then there was Luca Badoer…