Sébastien Bourdais – a driver cursed in Formula 1 but blessed with a Midas Touch in virtually every other motorsport series he’s contested – turns 33 today.
Born into a motor-racing family (his father Patrick was a professional racing driver), it was perhaps fitting that his birthplace was the French town of Le Mans. He started karting at the age of ten, and after winning a host of regional championships, he moved into open-wheel racing by the time he was sixteen.
In 1999, he won the French Formula 3 championship and was promoted into the Prost Junior Formula 3000 team the following year. He joined the DAMS team the following year and claimed his maiden race win, before joining the Super Nova team in 2002. He won three races and inherited the championship crown when the original champion, Tomáš Enge, was stripped of his crown after failing a drug test.
F1 test opportunities followed with the Arrows and Renault teams. He impressed both squads, but his refusal to sign a management contract with Renault team principal Flavio Briatore cost him a reserve driver role with the team.
Without the backing to remain in Formula 1 in any capacity, he crossed the Atlantic and signed with the Newman-Haas Racing team in the CART World Series championship, kicking off a marriage that would prove to be among the most successful driver-team partnerships in motorsport history.
He won his fourth race and finished fourth in the 2003 standings to claim ‘Rookie Of The Year’ honours. He claimed seven wins in his sophomore season to claim what would be the first of four consecutive series titles.
His continued success would eventually grab the attention of the F1 folk once again, and Bourdais was signed on to join the Toro Rosso team for the 2008 Formula 1 season, hoping he could be a rare example of a Champ Car driver who could successfully make the transition to F1.
Sadly, this proved not to be the case, and after team-mate Sebastian Vettel comprehensively blew the doors off him in his debut season, it was something of a surprise that Bourdais was kept on for a second year. Granted, he’d not completely disgraced himself, but he wasn’t proving particularly quick either.
The team had hoped that a second year would give him the chance to assert his authority as the number-one driver alongside rookie team-mate Sébastien Buemi, but when the Swiss debutant promptly out-qualified and out-raced Bourdais in his first race, the writing was well and truly on the wall. After he qualified bog last at the German Grand Prix, Bourdais was quietly dropped and F1 left him behind.
After dovetailing in the SuperLeague Formula and Le Mans Series championships with considerable success, he returned Stateside and joined Dale Coyne’s little operation to compete in a part-season in the 2011 IndyCar Series. Despite the budget limitations of the team, Bourdais was regularly in the top half of the field, claiming five top-ten finishes.
He switched camps and joined the re-formed Dragon Racing team to contest a full season, where he will partner former ChampCar racer Katherine Legge.