The return of the Senna name to Formula 1 has been among the most hotly-anticipated talking points for Formula 1 fans in the 2010 season. The nephew of the late three-time World Champion, Ayrton Senna, has proved he is a very promising driver who deserves his opportunity on the F1 stage.
However, his starting point is the back-of-the-grid Hispania Racing Team Cosworth, and even expecting him to match the feats of his uncle in his debut year with Toleman in 1984 could be a stretch.
Bruno’s motorsport ambitions took a massive hit with the death of his uncle in 1994, and the Senna family was simply unwilling to risk another family death in motorsport.
A full decade later, Bruno finally made his much-anticipated return to the track, joining the Formula BMW UK championship for a few races at the end of the 2004 season. Having barely competed in 10 years and with a massive media spotlight now focused on him, he was justifiably all over the shop – but despite the immediate lack of finesse on the track, his innate talent was still evident to all.
He stepped straight into the British F3 competition the next year and did a creditable job in the Kimi Raikkonen-owned team, placing 5th in the championship and scoring one win.
Big things were expected the next year, but his tilt at the 2006 F3 title took a hit with a massive accident at Snetterton and his team-mate took the championship spoils instead.
The story seemed to repeat itself in GP2, where Senna started strongly with a race win, only to watch his title hopes fade in the second half of the 2007 season.
The Honda F1 team saw his potential and he was drafted into a three-day test drive with the team in November 2008, to be tested as a potential replacement for Rubens Barrichello.
With F1 now beckoning, the rug was cruelly pulled out from under his feet at the eleventh hour when Honda announced its withdrawal from F1, and its successor team Brawn GP opted to stick with Barrichello’s experience despite being impressed with Bruno’s pace.
Left in the F1 wilderness, Bruno regrouped and secured a seat with Campos Meta, which later morphed into Hispania Racing following a management buy-out.
We were surprised and delighted when his team management accepted out interview request in the days leading up to the Bahrain GP, but our schedules meant that arranging a direct contact interview was next to impossible. His reps asked that we send through a list of questions we would like answered, and Bruno has found the the time to do so!
We offer our sincerest thanks to Heike Feldkamp and Julia Spacek of the HRT F1 team for their assistance and support in making this interview happen.
Being the nephew of Ayrton Senna, did you always harbour ambitions to compete in motor sport? How much support and guidance did your family provide you?
I’ve always loved motor racing and was interested in cars since I was about three years old. I started driving buggies at the age of four and I first drove a go-kart when I was five. My grandfather was my mentor during my go-kart years, even though I never got the opportunity to go racing.
Your uncle [Ayrton Senna] said in 1993, “If you think I’m fast, wait until you see my nephew”. You raced go-karts with your uncle on his farm when you were a child. What did he teach you?
We used to have good fun in go-karts at the farm. He used to teach me about racing lines and sometimes about overtaking. But usually he was the one with the stopwatch telling me to push harder!
You started racing in Europe in six races of the Formula BMW UK series in 2004. How much pressure was placed on you by carrying the Senna surname?
There was great pressure then, and I didn’t know how to cope with it. The expectation [placed upon me were] too high for a rookie and people were comparing me on my first races with Ayrton, a 3-time World Champion! I never really had it easy, from the start.
You’ve had a lot of support from Gerhard Berger over the years. How important has his involvement been to you?
Gerhard has been of great importance to me and my career. He always gave great information and advice on how to do things on the sporting side. And he has definitely helped me to survive on the deep-end with no experience!
You were presented with the opportunity to drive demonstration laps in your uncle’s 1986 Lotus Renault 98T (pictured) at the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix. It must have been a very emotional experience for you in your homeland?
It was a very touching experience to drive that car in Brazil. The energy of the crowd was amazing!!!
For sure, I’d love to drive it fast and have some fun!
You then competed in two seasons if British F3 with the Kimi Raikkonen co-owned team, taking 5 wins and 12 podium finishes across those two years. Can you describe your emotions after taking your first race win at Oulton Park?
After the great success in Oulton Park I was starting to really believe in my potential to go higher in my career. It was only the beginning for me, but I was turning more competitive and gain a better understanding of the recipe to be successful.
You also had a massive accident at Snetterton when you and Salvador Durán locked wheels on the Revett Straight. Do you remember anything of the crash?
I remember the crash in detail, as I didn’t suffer any sort of unconsciousness. It was pretty scary to see the nose of my car pointing at the blue skies at over 250km/h, but fortunately safety in motor racing nowadays is pretty good, and even a Formula 3 car can take a bad crash like that.
You moved to GP2 and competed there for two seasons with success driving for Arden and iSport. What was it like to compete on the same stage as the Formula 1 drivers, and potentially be noticed by team managers?
GP2 is a very competitive series and I knew it was very important for me to be successful there.
So I pushed very hard from the beginning and, in 2008, I had (for the first time) the experience and equipment to fight for the Championship. It was a great battle and it really made me grow up as a driver and a person.
Senna’s rise to F1 was looking more promising by 2008. A promising third season with the iSport International (aboe left) team saw him collect 2 wins and the runner’s-up spot in the Championship to Giorgio Pantano. A test session with Honda Racing was his reward, and he sampled the execrable RA108 in November at the Circuit de Catalunya (above right). Despite setting a fastest lap to within 0.3s of Jenson Button, his F1 hopes seemingly evaporated then Honda withdraw from F1, leaving Bruno to pursue drives in the Le Mans series while he waited for his opportunity to return…
You had participated in a three-day test session with Honda in 2008 at Barcelona, and ran close to the times of Jenson Button, and were tipped to join the team in 2009. But then the global financial crisis happened and Honda pulled out. And although bought out to become Brawn GP, you missed out on the drive. Can you tell us your side of the story and what you did to regroup to get back into Formula 1?
I had one-and-a-half days in the car, the first half-day being to acclimatise and the full day for the proper test. I believe it was a good achievement to be fairly close to Jenson’s performance in only my first proper test day in a Formula 1 car, but I believe I could do better with more testing and experience. I was very happy to be having my first real experience with an F1 car and team, and felt very proud of the achievements they reached during 2009.
How did you manage to secure the drive with Campos Meta, now known as Hispania Racing?
I’ve had a good relationship with Adrian Campos, who believed in my potential, since GP2, and we got in touch when the team was about to be launched, so I believed they were the best potential of the new teams and we signed an agreement to race.
With the cars not even assembled by the time the team arrived in Bahrain, Bruno’s competitive F1 debut was always going to be difficult. Unsurprisingly, the untested HRT Cosworth was slowest of all the runners that weekend, but Bruno competed in an error-free manner and kept out of trouble until sidelined mid-race with an overheating problem. The only way is up…
(At the time of submitting the interview questions) You are set to make your debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix in just a few days’ time. The car has had no testing and little is expected from HRT in its first year. What are you wanting to achieve in 2010 and how competitive will the car be?
As a team, we’re aiming to be the best of the new teams by the end of the year. It won’t be easy, as we started behind all the others, but there’s great potential and lots of experienced F1 people that are working their hardest to achieve this.
What are your long-term aims in Formula 1 and motor sport in general?
My aim is to be competitive in F1 and hopefully be world champion!
[Formula 1 images via GP Update]
Richard’s F1 is a proud supporter of the Ayrton Senna Foundation, which works to alleviate poverty in Brazil. For more information, please click the link below: