Sebastien Bourdais wasn't sure he was getting to get a second season in Formula One, but the announcement that he had been re-signed by Toro Rosso has given the Frenchman a chance to turn last year's flashes of potential into strong results.
As the team unveiled their new STR4 at Barcelona today, Bourdais was keen to move on from his 2008 frustrations and winter uncertainty, and to look forward to what he hopes will be a fruitful 2009 season.
Q: The announcement that you were staying came very late. Was there a point where you wondered whether you'd be here this year?
Sebastien Bourdais: Well, I think it is the start of the season and that is the past, so if we keep on going back to the past we are never going to do anything in the future. Obviously it has been very well discussed, we have had a very long winter; very difficult and complicated, but it is over now. We are not even a month away from the first race and it is the last test before that, so we should aim all the stuff toward Melbourne.
Today is also the first presentation of the car, so I'm quite happy. We did 66 laps this morning and that's an encouraging start, but obviously we have a lot of things to go through and I doubt we will be able to do everything here. But it is still better than last year when we were starting with the old car, and I am looking forward to the start of the season.
Q: Are we going to see a different Sebastien Bourdais this year?
SB: I hope we will have a bit better luck. That's all I can say. I think we started off quite well last year; TR2 was a car that I wasn't the happiest guy in the paddock with, but in the end I was going fairly well and seemed to be a good match with Sebastian.
Then TR3 arrived and I struggled a lot, so for sure it is always the pair, the combination between the driver and the car. That's what makes the team successful or not, and the driver obviously. So all I can hope for is that I can find some good feedback from the car and we can move forwards.
Q: Franz Tost was saying that he thought the slicks would suit you.
SB: I guess we can hope that all the changes that happen will go in my direction, but like I said, it's more the driver and the car, the whole combination, that works or doesn?t work. Although there are a lot of other things.
But for sure, grooved tyres are not things that are easy to manage. Graining on the slick is a thing that we see, but it is not as crucial as it was with grooved tyres, and especially on green tracks where sometimes you lose four seconds between the first lap time and the fifth lap time. So it is always easier with slicks. If they have been introduced into racing it was for a good reason, and it is good to see them back on the cars.
Q: You have only had one morning in the car so far, but have you had a chance to get a sense of whether you feel comfortable with it?
SB: Yeah. I think the basis is quite strong; it seems to be a fairly balanced car. Obviously when you have so many things to go through, it's like every new car. You put it on the race track, and it seems like it's not too bad. So it's an encouraging start, but we definitely have a lot of things to try and balance adjustments we want to do, so it's going to be quite a hectic session for the whole team.
Q: What do you expect from yourself this season?
SB: We'll do as well as we can. Obviously there is no limitation, so we'd like to score as many points as we can. If the team can sustain or improve, which seems quite difficult when you know who you need to beat to improve your classification, but if we can score as many points as we did last year as a team - and obviously if I can score more than last year - I'd be quite happy.
It's always difficult to know where you sit, so to define your expectations is not an easy task because obviously we have just put the car on the racetrack. There are so many unknowns about the potential of everyone, including ourselves. Hopefully we will have a good season and score a lot of points; that's all I can say.
Q: It's a new car but you have a year under your belt and know all but one of the tracks, so that must help you.
SB: Yeah. I mean, to be in the second year is always a big help. But in Formula One everybody has a different car and like I said, it is the combination that gets you - if the combination is good, a good driver and a good car, it is going to be successful. And the opposite is also true. So hopefully we will have the right pair.
Q: During the winter you seemed pessimistic.
SB: Yeah, but I think we have already discussed that. It's the past. It's game over. We talked about this over and over and over again and I just... you know - it's gone. The season is just about to start, so let's talk about what's coming up.
Q: Did you have to come up with financial support?
SB: No. Unfortunately we were unable to come up with a significant sponsor.
Q: Did you think about going back to America?
SB: Are you really sure you want to ask questions just about the past? I don't know, it's up to you, but we've just unveiled the new car.
Yes, obviously it was an alternative. I'm a professional driver and the worst thing that could have happened to me was not to have a seat, not to drive. So I investigated different things, and going back to the States was one of them.
Q: Given how late you've got this year's car, how much ground can you make up before Melbourne? Do you think it might be a couple of races before you've handle on how the car works?
SB: It all depends on how this session goes. It's quite an encouraging start because we've been able to achieve quite a few laps already, so it's good. And then how much progress we achieve throughout the four days, it's like evaluating your potential.
Sometimes you think you have a lot of margin, and sometimes not, but sometimes what you think is a bit of a blur. At the end of the day, you only know once you've done it. You're kind of crossing fingers and hoping we'll have achieved everything we can, and we have to before the season. If that's not the case, then for sure it will be a steep learning curve.
Q: So it is a disadvantage to have got the car this late?
SB: For sure, otherwise all the other ones would be here. If all the guys in all the big teams try to get their cars as early as possible, it's to get as many miles as possible.
Obviously Red Bull has been able to do quite a few test sessions, and we're not in the best position. But like I said, it's better than last year because we did not get the car until the sixth race, so we will see what we can do this time around.
Q: From what you've seen of testing, do you think there could be a shake up of the grid this season?
SB: Yeah, it's always kind of true when you change regulations, everybody has their philosophy about designing cars. Some philosophies, some not so right, and some are completely wrong. These days designers and aerodynamicists seem to know what they have to do better than in the past.
There are a lot of computer models and a lot of technical tools to get it right, but there is still room to make mistakes, and even the big boys are not safe. Potentially it could move the grid upside down a little bit, and hopefully we can move towards the front.
Q: Do you think that's to the benefit of Formula One?
SB: Changes are good for sure, to motivate the fans, to see it is not a completely defined order, and to spice things up a bit.
Q: Without Vettel in the team do you feel more relaxed, you have different responsibilities, that you are the benchmark.
SB: No, I don't see myself as the benchmark or anything. In the team you have two drivers who try their very best to perform as well as possible, both for themselves and the team. Last year I had a great relationship with Sebastian (Vettel). Initially it was good, and then it was not so much in my favour.
But this year we also have a good relationship with Sebastien Buemi. He is obviously very young, but he has been driving for quite a few years, and he is talented, so we will see how it goes. But the team is relying on both drivers, and hoping they perform as well as possible, not just me.
Q: Have you had to lose weight because of KERS?
SB: It's always the problem when things like this are introduced and the weight is not revised. It's harder to get on target. Unfortunately, when you have nine and a half per cent of body fat, it's quite difficult to lose weight. As a consequence maybe I have lost one kilo, but it's going to be difficult to lose some more, otherwise I'm going to have to start chopping things off my body.