JULY 30, 2007
The future of Sebastien Bourdais
In the next day or so Scuderia Toro Rosso has to take up or drop an option on Sebastien Bourdais, the triple Champ Car champion, who has tested for the team several times in recent months. In F1 circles it seems as though some feel that the deal is already done but it may not be quite that simple. Bourdais's contractual situation in the United States may not be as clear as has been suggested. His current contract allows for F1 testing but what is not clear is whether Newman Haas Lanigan Racing has first option on his services in 2008 or whether he is free to head back to Europe. Things are further complicated by the fact that Newman Haas and Lanigan have now gone into partnership with Robert Yates Racing in NASCAR and so there is a very real possibility that Bourdais could move in that direction. Over in America, Bourdais is a firm favourite of the McDonald's company, having won for the hamburger company non-stop since 2004. Yates also enjoys a strategic partnership with Team Rensi Motorsports, a leading NASCAR Busch Series team, which is owned by former McDonald's chairman and chief executive Ed Rensi.
McDonald's was a major sponsor in NASCAR in the 1990s, backing Bill Elliott for six years. The company switched to Andy Houston in 2001 but the result was a big disappointment. The firm has been back on occasion as the sponsor of Elliott, as recently as 2005.
NASCAR has some advantages over the F1 route. The money is good and a driver's earning potential will last for more years than in F1. The Yates cars are more competitive in NASCAR than Scuderia Toro Rosso is in F1 and Juan Pablo Montoya has shown that open-wheeler racers can make the switch.
Sebastien and his wife Claire (a Frenchwoman) have been settled in the United States for several years, although they now have a young baby and there will inevitably be questions about where they want the child to grow up.
Going to Scuderia Toro Rosso would be a risk that could leave Bourdais with a damaged reputation unless the team registers a major leap forward in performance and it would be interesting to know his thoughts about the recent clash between the team bosses and Scott Speed.