Former F1 driver Robert Doornbos – known affectionately as ‘Bobby D’ in North American circles – is turning 30 today.
The Dutchman contested a total of eleven Grands Prix with Minardi and Red Bull Racing in 2005-6, achieving a best finish of twelfth place, but he fell in motorsport almost by accident…
In fact, Robert was destined for a career on the professional tennis circuit until, in 1998, he was invited to the Belgian Grand Prix as guest of a Williams sponsor.
After meeting Jacques Villeneuve, Doornbos tried his hand in the Formula Opel Lotus championship the following year, later moving onto the Formula Ford Benelux championship, finishing fifth overall.
The next year, Doornbos was in Formula 3000 with the Arden outfit, showing his class with a win at Spa-Francorchamps en route to placing third in the championship.
He joined the Jordan F1 team in late-2004 as its Friday practice driver, but jumped ship to Minardi in mid-2005 when Patrick Friesacher left the team after his funds ran dry.
Despite tangling with his old mate Villeneuve on his race debut at the Hockenheim, Doornbos acquitted himself well, proving to be by far the more popular driver in the team when paired with his moody compatriot Christijan Albers.
Minardi was sold on to the Red Bull group at the end of the year, and Doornbos’ results were enough to see him picked up by the senior Red Bull Racing squad for 2006, becoming the team’s official test driver.
Towards the end of the season, the team’s number-two driver Christian Klien left the outfit, and Robert again stepped up to the race seat. By then, the team had long since abandoned development on the rather rubbish RB2 chassis, leaving he and David Coulthard simply to make up the numbers.
Overlooked for a seat at Toro Rosso for 2007, Doornbos reunited with former Minardi boss Paul Stoddart, who had bought a controlling stake in the CTE-HVM ChampCar team, renaming it the Minardi USA team.
In what would turn out to be the final year of the ChampCar series before it merged with the Indy Racing League, Doornbos was a revelation. He became the first driver since Nigel Mansell in 1993 to finish on the podium on debut. A consistent runner, Doornbos claimed two fine wins, a great wet-weather performance at Mont Tremblant and a come-from-behind win at San Jose en route to claiming ‘Rookie of the Year’ honours and finish third in the championship.
Unable to replicate the same form in the new IndyCar championship in 2008, Robert quit mid-season. He went on to make some guest outings in the A1GP series (winning at Algarve for Team Netherlands), and is now a full-time runner in the SuperLeague Formula championship.