Sense and Senna’s Ability

Image by Morio

Rumours in Formula One are generally more a case of mischief and speculation rather than attributable fact. Sometimes, however, the merit can be stronger than hope . . .

With only two seats now left to complete this year’s grid, the focus of attention has shifted firmly on to the ailing Williams team as they seek to balance their funding deficit with the need to find a driver capable of leading them from their mire. Rubens Barrichello has made no secret of his wish to stay-on with the Grove outfit and this continuity, together with his unquestionable skill and paddock presence would, without doubt, help to manage the turmoil of the post Head & Michael era. But virtue counts for little in an industry where success and dollars are inextricably linked and Rubinho can seemingly only watch as a succession of out-of-contract drivers and their managers court CEO Adam Parr with secret handshakes and gilded promises.

Despite this, and according to some, Rubens is still very much the favourite to partner Maldonado, yet listen elsewhere and you’ll hear very different stories. Adrian Sutil, having lost his way at Force India, is also being touted to join as he attempts to salvage a waning career but above all, most intriguing are the suggestions that Bruno Senna is well on his way to his third team in as many years.

I like Bruno. I first saw him at Oulton Park in 2005; he showed real pace and was fearless where others were restrained, but he was also tainted by a naive vulnerability and it was this that would often dominate results. Unlike those around him, he was, in every sense, a rookie. He came to Formula Three with just three weekends of Formula BMW experience behind him. He had stopped racing when Ayrton died and only returned some nine years later. He worked hard though. Move-on a year and he was literally superb. What I liked most was that he was undoubtedly his own man. It would have been so easy for him to rest on his uncle’s name but instead, he now drove with all the class, and passion that befits a true champion. He won four of the first seven races in 2006 and it should have been his year; then a collision at Snetterton destroyed his car and ultimately, his season.

Of course, it would be wrong to suggest that the Senna name has not aided his career. The progression to GP2 was swift but again, he ably demonstrated his merit with a win in just his third race, followed by two further podiums. By 2008, he was true to form and playing a starring role, ending the year as runner-up, and more importantly (for the sake of perspective), ahead of Grosjean, Maldonado, Buemi, Petrov, Chandhok and d’Ambrosio. Be in no doubt, Bruno has what it takes.

Success in Formula One, however, is not only brought about with talent and money; it is as much about timing and opportunity, and the last two years have not been kind. He could have been at Brawn with Rubens, but then Mercedes took over and they wanted Michael and Nico: So it was the fledgling and luckless HRT, or nothing. And then last year, the move to Lotus Renault as reserve driver seemed like he might finally get his chance, and he did. We all remember his magnificent qualifying, first time out at Spa, but then we also remember the woeful start. Beyond this, there were only glimpses of the man he could be. Time was short and it soon became clear that he was really only there to make-up the numbers.

So what for 2012? One thing is for sure, if he stays in Formula One, he’s likely to have a tough time. HRT need to be discounted. Bruno, his management and his sponsors must all know that Luis Perez-Sala’s squad will struggle to both start and complete the season.  And then there’s Williams, the team where his uncle ended his life; a fact that won’t be lost on anybody. Williams are not in good shape themselves. They lack funding and they lack direction; they’re at their lowest ebb.

There is one other option . . . he could oust Jarno Trulli at Caterham. The Hingham outfit ought to break free of the tail-end this year and a strong season alongside Heikki Kovalainen might just be what he needs to put himself in the frame for one of the prized top-four drives that should become available at the year’s end. Tony Fernandes will be attracted to the potential of his name and Mike Gascoyne, long an advocate of Trulli, might just have to succumb to OGX’s dollars.

Whatever happens, this year needs to be one where he can position himself for better things in 2013. Team Senna need to be looking forward, not to today but to tomorrow. If they don’t, the dream of a new home might only end in heartbreak.

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