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FEBRUARY 1, 2011

Senna steps back to go forward

Bruno Senna had what can only be described as a character-building first year in F1. The HRT team was new, its Dallara-built chassis was not truly up to F1 standard and there was no chance for Senna to shine.

With the demise of the manufacturer-backed programmes and the withdrawal of the likes of Honda, Toyota, BMW and Renault as full team owners, the feasibility of securing an F1 seat has again come down to a driver's ability to generate money.

It is a sign of the times when a team such as Williams is forced to jettison a talent such as Nico Hulkenberg to take Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan oil money. That could be viewed as a little harsh on Maldonado, who as reigning GP2 champion is clearly talented, but it's harsher still on Hulkenberg.

Against that background you might imagine that a young up-and-coming driver with the Senna surname might have backers falling over themselves to be part of him and his story. The fact that it doesn't seem to be the case is probably a reflection of the economic climate we are living in.

Senna and his backers regard wasting more money on back of the grid teams as a retrograde step. Rather, they are prepared to accept the third driver role at Lotus Renault and make it work for them. It was a route that worked well for a certain Fernando Alonso after his debut season at Minardi.

"We've been in touch with Lotus Renault for a long time but have only been talking about a realistic deal for a little while," the 27-year-old said as the wraps were pulled off the Lotus Renault GP R31 in Valencia.

Senna says that he will look at other racing programmes outside F1 but not too desperately, emphasising that he expects to be kept busy in his new role, attending every GP with the team. Although nothing is fixed, it is not inconceivable that he might get some Friday running in the current car at grands prix although such a move would obviously prove unpopular with Vitaly Petrov, who is signed until the end of 2012.

"I'll be following the team at every race and will be reserve driver," Senna says. "I'll do some technical testing and straight line running and also some days with the old car to get up to speed. It's a new opportunity to drive the old car and integration with the team will help a lot. F1 is about the personal relationships and if I get the opportunity to drive a little, I'm sure I can convince them of what I can do and hopefully get an opportunity in the future. Even if you don't get much mileage the experience of being part of such a team is quite special for me. I'm sure I'm going to learn a lot from them. They are not going to get rid of me easily!"

Senna and his management have identified the gulf that exists between the new teams at the back of the grid and the championship contenders. They have elected to become part of a front-running set-up and to learn from that, rather than merely to take part.

Part of Senna's programme will be a test programme in an old chassis, which is not prohibited, that will at least allow him some time in the cockpit given that the opportunities to drive the current machine are so limited by the testing ban.

Senna is hoping it's a strategy that will pay off: "There are no future guarantees - we're here because it's a good opportunity."