It was October 2012. The sun was shining down on the greens, as I hugged the wire fence looking at Turn 1. I could see him at a distance. I tried hard to ignore the excited little flip my stomach did, as I watched him coming toward me. The sun glinted against the yellow-green helmet, gleaming against the blue and white of the Williams. I screamed before I could stop myself, “Brunoooo, Bruuuunooo.” He couldn’t hear me. But I felt like I was living in an alternate reality. I never thought I would ever watch a Senna race.
Ayrton has always been a part of my life, for as long as I have known Formula 1 and motorsports. So three years ago, I couldn’t resist that happy feeling when I heard the news: Bruno Senna would race in F1. I allowed myself that little happiness, before I told myself that I was wrong. This was Bruno. He was not Ayrton. They shared the same last name, but they were different – one was a legend, a racer like no other. The other, his nephew, was still trying to find his space, his place in the racing world.
Three years later, on Wednesday, I woke up to the news that Bruno would not be racing in F1 this season. He would instead be racing for Aston Martin at the challenging and hardcore World Endurance Championship. I let a tinge of sadness pass through me, before giving in to relief and joy. No matter what anyone says, I am happy.
Bruno’s three years in F1 have been far from easy. His debut in 2010 with HRT was a misbegotten adventure – one that should never have happened. In fact, the team should have never been a part of F1, considering its sole contribution to the sport was to grace the back of the grid. That aside, Bruno spent most of his debut season struggling with a car that should have stayed in the garage. He moved to Renault the following year as a reserve driver, finally racing in the Belgian GP. He ran eight races and scored just once.
2012 seemed a little better. Bruno landed a seat in Williams, a team that shares a deep, tragic history with the Senna name. Suddenly, he had a competitive car. But it seemed that that came with baggage of its own. Bruno had to give up 15 of the season’s 20 practice-one sessions to Valtteri Bottas, the man who has replaced him this year. He did not win any races, unlike his teammate Pastor Maldonado who took the 1st place at the Spanish Grand Prix. The statistics however tell a different story. While Maldonado spent the better half of the season traipsing in and out of the stewards’ offices, Bruno scored points for the team. At the end of the season, the Venezuelan was placed at 15 with 45 points, having retired 5 times during the season. Bruno at the 16th spot, scored 31 points for the team, having retired twice through the season.
While I for one, would have loved to see Bruno right up at the top, fighting for a podium, the simple fact is that he just didn’t have enough experience. He had to fight to enter the world of motorsports and racing, battling his family and the past. Unlike many other racers, Bruno had to wait 10 years to race – years that are crucial for anyone who dreams of racing in F1; years that are spent learning the machine, honing talent and understanding the sport.
Amidst all the challenges, there were the comparisons, made by journalists, fans and F1 followers; people who believed he did not have what it takes. It can’t be easy; living with the legacy of a man we all love. In 2010, while at HRT, Bruno said in an interview, “I don’t want to be Ayrton. I never wanted to be Ayrton. I just want to be Bruno and achieve what I can achieve.” It’s a poignant statement that couldn’t be truer. But, he never got that chance in F1.
So, today, as I write this, I am happy. I can’t wait to see Bruno race in the World Endurance Championship, driving the super-smooth James-Bondesque Aston Martin. He said in a press release that he has always seen victories and podium finishes. “…through a series of circumstances beyond my control, I did not have the same chance in Formula 1. Proposals were offered to me this season, but they also did not give me this possibility.” He later told Autosport, “I want to move forward and get back to winning races. The opportunities weren’t there to do that in Formula 1.”
Now, Bruno will race the #99 Vantage GTE, pairing with Frédéric Makowiecki at every WEC round. Robert Bell will join them for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. Speaking at the launch, David Richards, Chairman of Aston Martin, said: “There is a real sense of anticipation in the Aston Martin Racing team this year and a belief that it is once again our time to return to the top step of the podium at Le Mans. It would be a fitting way for Aston Martin, which has such a rich heritage in motorsport and particularly at Le Mans, to cap its centenary year.”
It will be exciting; the perfect time for Bruno to find his space and create his history. Perhaps he will return to Formula 1, more in control of his legacy. But this is not goodbye. Come March, we will see Bruno race in the 12 Hours of Sebring. And, as Bruno says in the interview below, “I think winning Le Mans will be pretty special.”
Till then, I am going to relive my favourite Bruno memory. It was that beautiful moment in wet Sepang when he danced through the rain, climbing up the grid, from 22nd to 6th. For me, at that moment, on that day, he was just Bruno.
Watch Bruno Senna’s interview at the launch here.