Only one member of the Williams team was anything other than
euphoric in the moments after Pastor Maldonado crossed the line to
rip up the formbook and win the Spanish Grand Prix. For the
majority of the outfit's long-suffering employees, this was a
moment of vindication - the end of an unprecedented eight year wait
for victory. For the forlorn figure of Bruno Senna, it was a
sobering moment indeed.
The twenty-eight year old Brazilian had endured a torrid weekend
at the Circuit de Catalunya. Excluded from his car during first
practice by the presence of test driver Valtteri Bottas, he was
playing catch-up from the word go. The first qualifying session saw
Senna speer off into the gravel to strand himself in eighteenth on
the grid, whilst his team-mate inherited pole position. On raceday,
Bruno managed only thirteen laps before being eliminated by an
errant Michael Schumacher. He decamped to the pitwall to witness
Maldonado snatch his maiden silverware.
To cap a bad weekend, it was Senna's FW34 which was later burnt to
a crisp by a shocking fire in the Williams garage. But when the
smoke had cleared, Bruno's performance which was coming under
increasing scrutiny. A flurry of reports appeared on the internet
hinting that Bottas would be taking over racing duties before the
end of the season, speculation which was boosted by the sudden
appearance of a cluster of Finnish sponsors on the team's
challenger. Suddenly, Senna is under the sort of pressure that only
friend Felipe Massa can truly sympathise with.
What makes the situation all the stranger is that calls for
Bruno's dismissal are far from justified. It is true to say he has
lacked composure in qualifying, but after the opening four rounds
the Brazilian had an impressive fourteen points to his name -
leaving the likes of Kobayashi, Hulkenberg, Massa, Schumacher and
team-mate Maldonado trailing in his wake. It was Senna who first
put his team on the scoreboard courtesy of two top seven finishes
from the flyaway races. At the time, his performances drew only
smatterings of praise.
Of course, Maldonado's win has eclipsed Senna's early
performances. But it should not be forgotten that until last
weekend, the Brazilian held the upper hand. Given the obvious
potential of the Renault-powered FW34, he will have his chance to
steal it back again. His mature performance so far belies the fact
that his fractured racing career is in only its eighth year, and
that his F1 experiences so far consist of an interrupted campaign
at Hispania and six races in an uncompetitive Renault. Unlike his
his team-mate he is new to Williams, and is contractually obligated
to sit out fifteen practice sessions this season. When viewed in
that light, the Brazilian's displays take on a new dimension.
Bottas is an intriguing prospect. Many view him as Williams'
second attempt to rear a homegrown Hamilton, following their
controversial failure to hang on to the promising Nico Hulkenberg.
The latter came in to F1 as the reigning GP2 champion, and yet
troubled the top ten once in his first half-season. Bottas is a
mere GP3 champion - he has not yet made the move to the feeder
series, and as such is not ready to trouble the top flight. The
Finn clearly has talent in abundance, but fast-tracking him into
Senna's cockpit is not the best way to nurture it.
In many ways, Bruno Senna is the ideal driver for Sir Frank
Williams' fabled squad at this stage. He brings the financial
backing which Williams crave so badly, and is outperforming a
number of his highly rated rivals. On top of that, he is prepared
to watch every third practice session from the sidelines, and
continues to give clear and concise technical feedback. The fact
that he is so reminiscent of his late, legendary uncle Ayrton only
endears him further to the team's mechanics.
With his team-mate now a winner and his blackened chassis largely
consigned to the rubbish tip, Senna's task is not going to get any
easier. However, if his achievements to date have taught us
anything, it is that he deserves a chance. If Williams continue
their remarkable resurgence, then there is no reason why he cannot
do his family name proud.