Monday, 24 May 2010

Red Bull's next race winner

Saturday 11th October 2008, 5.30am, I'm struggling to keep my eyes open as i watch the build up on ITV to the qualifying session at Fuji Speedway with Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa battling for the title. As another set of adverts appear i decide to go channel hopping and discover more motor racing on Channel 4. British F3 from Donnington Park. A title deciding race as well. So i thought i'd check this out. I like keeping an eye on GP2 etc but had to admit that i didn't know too many drivers in this field. In the opening stages there was the usual thrills and spills you'd associate with the lower classes of open wheel racing. However at the fr ont, one man was on his own, serenly pulling away lap after lap to take a crushing victory which gave him the title. Riding onboard with this Spanish teenager you could see consistency and no mistakes in what would have been a pressure situation with a championship on the line. Jaime Alguersuari was his name and i thought to myself "I'll remember that".

Despite my positive impressions of the man from Barcelona, I wasn't expecting to see him on the F1 grid less than 12 months later. Alguersuari was thrust into action at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, becoming the youngest F1 driver at 19 years old, with his only previous running in an F1 car being in a straight line test. The reason for this opprtunity coming along so quickly is that Alguersuari is part of the Red Bull driver programme which has already seen many drivers get their chance in F1, like Vitantonio Liuzzi, Sebastian Vettel and the other current Torro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi. Felipe Massa expressed concern before the weekend that being put in so young could harm Alguersuari long-term. It's a valid point as rushing a driver in who still lacks that experience that is so important could suffer early poor results and really adversly affect his confidence. The positive for Alguersuari was that there was little expectation or pressure. With Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz owning 2 teams it basically gives him 4 seats on the F1 grid. It means that Torro Rosso can be used as a ground for blooding new talent while the main team is focused on winning races. It gave the Spanish teenager the license to learn F1. Alguersuari put in a respectable performance in Budapest, his lap times were fine considering it was his debut and his best lap in the race was less than half a second off team mate Buemi. The important thing for him was to get as much running as possible. He even continued his season in Formula Renault between Grand Prix weekends. No points came in 2009 but milage was gained, making use of all 3 days of the weekend. Japan was a rough experience for him with big crashes on both Saturday and Sunday at Degner 2 and 130R respectively.

2010 presents a proper chance to shine for Alguersuari. Pre-season testing gave him a chance to get used to his new car before going into the heat of battle. The opening races has allowed him to show glimpses of his capability. He held off the challenge of Michael Schumacher for 50 laps at Albert Park and then took his maiden points finish in Sepang which included a sensational pass on Nico Hulkneberg on the outside of turn 5. He repeated the trick on the German at his home race. There have been messy moments as well. In both Shanghai and Barcelona he collided with Karun Chandhok while lapping the Indian. A broken front wing compromised his Chinese race while knocking the HRT's front wing off in Spain earned him a drive through penalty.

Is he the future of Red Bull? Well, time is on his side. It's incredible to think he could start the 2015 season with over 5 seasons of experience yet only be 25! Short term prospects could be limited. Mark Webber's deal expires at the end of this season and though he hasn't ruled out a switch, it woulds till seem likely that he would stay on at the team. Should the Australian decide to go, other options would include Kimi Raikkonen who is currently running in his debut season in the World Rally Championship with Red Bull backing. Felipe Massa could be another option should the Brazilian lose his Ferrari seat to Webber. Buemi is also a contender, the Swiss driver having openly admitted that he would love to have a Red Bull seat in 2011. Sebastian Vettel is contracted until 2012. Mercedes would love to have Vettel leading their German aspirations but at the present time, the Red Bull is the car to have. Of course it doesn't take long for things to change in Formula 1 but Vettel will be content for the meantime, having taken the Torro Rosso route to the main team. All of this is speculation for the meantime. Red Bull have usually made driver line up decisions around July time in recent years so it'll be interesting to see if we have early confirmation around the time of the British and German Grand Prix weekends.

Alguersuari's personality perhaps is a reflection of the diving he has shown on track. He comes across as a very laid back and chilled out person. He is a huge fan of music and has DJ'ed to crowds of thousands. If his Twitter updates are anything to go by, then he is a very excitable guy! I really have been impressed by him. I think he has shown a lot of speed and while mistakes need to be ironed out, the potential is there to be a future star. Maturity will come with time, something he has plenty of. For now, his main challenge is to beat Buemi. If he can do that then he is beating one of his main rivals and is putting himself at the head of the quene for earning the promotion to Red Bull. Red Bull's next race winner? I think Jaime Alguersuari is a good possibility.