Jaime Alguersuari’s rapid rise to the top flight of motorsport and his sudden departure – retiring from racing at the age of 25 – remains one of the most the most curious of stories. Until now.
A multiple champion in karting, the Spaniard was picked up by Red Bull and signed to its young driver programme while in his teens. With their backing, he romped to the Formula Renault 2.0 Italia Winter Series title in 2006 (winning every race) and in 2008 he claimed the British Formula 3 Championship crown.
Midway through 2009, he was making his Formula 1 World Championship debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso at the Hungarian Grand Prix when the drink giant’s junior team split with Sébastien Bourdais. Aged 19 years and 125 days, he became the sport’s youngest ever race driver (a record subsequently beaten by Max Verstappen).
Retained full-time for the 2010 season, he started strongly with a career-best thirteenth place in Bahrain. He bettered that in Australia, narrowly finishing outside the points in eleventh after battling for more than half the race with seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher. Next time out in Malaysia, he picked up his first points’ finish and repeated the feat on home soil. A further top-ten finish came at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
His 2011 season was his best. He finished in the points seven times, peaking with a pair of seventh placings in Italy and Korea, to outscore teammate Sébastien Buemi. In what had been a strong season for Scuderia Toro Rosso, all signs pointed towards he and Buemi being retained for 2012, and at the time of our first feature interview with him he was confident of his prospects for the following year. Unknown at the time was that he had knocked back an offer to join Renault, expecting instead that his results would lead to a promotion to the senior Red Bull team.
Then came the bombshell news that both he and Buemi had been dropped in favour of Jean-Éric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo. While Buemi was given a lifeline as Red Bull Racing’s reserve driver, Alguersuari was on the outer and joined the list of alumni to have been chewed up and spat out by the Red Bull programme.
While Alguersuari undoubtedly had the talent worthy of staying in F1, he lacked the other crucial requirement to keep him there: money.
The next two years were spent as Pirelli’s F1 tyre test driver while dovetailing this with an increasingly successful profile as a DJ. A return to racing in Formula 1 would pass him by.
An opportunity came to join the new all-electric Formula E Championship and he was signed to Virgin Racing alongside Sam Bird for the inaugural 2014-15 season. Despite some strong results, Alguersuari hated the series and was rapidly falling out of love with racing. He fainted after the Moscow ePrix and missed the season finale in London.
In October 2015, he officially announced his retirement from all forms of motorsport, explaining that he had “fallen out of love with this girlfriend”. He was just 25 years old.
Alguersuari’s all-too-brief stint at the top flight of motorsport could be looked at a ‘what might have been’ parable.
But four years on, Alguersuari isn’t at all bitter. He continues to tour the world producing music and performing his work to the public and recently penned his autobiography (currently only available in Spanish).
So what happened in the wake of our first interview, which occurred just days before he was sacked by Red Bull? Why did he hang up his helmet so quickly?
All will be revealed.
|Jaime Víctor Alguersuari Escudero||Spanish||23 March 1990, Barcelona (ESP)|
|JUNIOR OPEN-WHEEL RACING CAREER|
|2005||Formula Junior Italia, Tomcat Racing, 12 races, 2 wins, 4 podiums, 3rd overall
|2006||Formula Renault 2.0 Italia Winter Series, Cram Competition, 4 races, 4 wins, 1st overall
Formula Renault 2.0 Italia, Cram Competition, 15 races, 1 podium, 12th overall
Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, Cram Competition, 14 races, 1 podium, 12th overall
|2007||Formula Renault 2.0 Italia, Epsilon Red Bull Team, 14 races, 3 wins, 7 podiums, 2nd overall
Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, Epsilon Red Bull Team, 14 races, 2 podiums, 5th overall
|2008||Spanish Formula 3 Championship, GTA Motor Competición, 8 races, 3 wins, 4 podiums, 7th overall
British Formula 3 Championship, Carlin Motorsport, 22 races, 5 wins, 12 podiums, 1st overall
Macau Grand Prix, Carlin Motorsport, 10th overall
Masters of Formula 3, Carlin Motorsport, 8th overall
|2009||Formula Renault 3.5 Series, Carlin Motorsport, 17 races, 1 win, 3 podiums, 7th overall
|FORMULA 1 CAREER|
|First Grand Prix||Last Grand Prix|
|2009 Hungarian Grand Prix||2011 Brazilian Grand Prix|
|2009||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari V8 STR4, 8 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|2010||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari V8 STR5, 19 races, 5 points, 19th overall|
|2011||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari V8 STR6, 19 races, 26 points, 14th overall|
|2012||Pirelli, Test Driver
|2013||Pirelli, Test Driver|
|FORMULA E CHAMPIONSHIP CAREER|
|2014-15||Virgin Racing Spark SRT01-e, 9 races, 30 points, 13th overall
The end of the journey with Red Bull
At the time of our last interview you had just completed the 2011 season and had achieved the best results of your F1 career. It was looking positive that you would remaining with Toro Rosso for 2012 but just days later came the news that you weren’t going to be retained. Can you explain the process how you were told and by whom, what were your immediate emotions in the aftermath of the decision and the news going public?
It was a very difficult thing to process for me, especially when you feel that you are at the best point of your racing career, at the peak of your career.
That year was a very good season overall, we scored 26 points with a car which was getting better step by step, we had at the time a blown diffuser that we were improving and as the team was getting bigger. we were aiming at and targeting teams like Mercedes, Renault, Force India Racing and Sauber Motorsport. We started the season with a poor performance but once we understood how to work the Pirelli tyres and their degradation, we started to look very good and I got out the maximum performance of the car.
Towards the end of the season I got an offer to drive for Renault in 2012. I declined it, hoping I would secure a promotion to Red Bull Racing as I was beating my teammate Sébastien Buemi.
Getting the news that I was not going to be with Red Bull at all was probably the toughest moment of my life. I never expected that news, never expected to be told something like this. The first thing that comes to your mind is ‘Why?’ – it’s a big question mark – that I actually I could never fill up.
Red Bull is very aggressive to drivers, that’s the way it is. Only the best drivers survive and that’s fine, I totally understand and I agree with this. But I had been working with them for six years having signed my first contract when I was 15, and there was nothing they could say. I was doing the right things, beating my teammate, and achieving results better than the potential of the car, so everything was looking amazing. They couldn’t say they were going to replace the drivers because of performance, because it wasn’t a performance decision. It was a super difficult thing to understand that I was no longer involved in Formula One even though if the results were there but are not going to be racing for 2012.
Red Bull also opted to dispense with your teammate Sébastien Buemi who you were outperforming in 2011, and brought in an all new driving line-up for Toro Rosso 2012. Did the decision to get rid of both drivers surprise you at all?
Yes, it was a big surprise and again I couldn’t predict it. I wanted the Red Bull Racing seat and I was pretty sure I was going to get it. After our last race in Brazil we were told by Toro Rosso that we did a great job and Dr Helmut Marko [Red Bull’s advisor] said that I did a good job and everything was running well and there was nothing to worry about.
Funnily enough, the day before I was given the news I was in Madrid for a team sponsor event and I was promoting how the team was going to go for 2012 and how good things were looking. One day after at 8am Franz Tost [Scuderia Toro Rosso’s team principal] called me and told me that we were not going to drive for Red Bull anymore. He gave no reasons.
Vergne and Ricciardo stayed for two seasons. Neither beat my benchmark in terms of points or in their results. Red Bull’s subsequent justification was that you needed to be a race-winner with Toro Rosso to get promoted to the leading team, using Sebastian Vettel’s win at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix as the example. But that happened in exceptional circumstances, with different regulations, engines and tyres. So when Daniel Ricciardo was subsequently promoted to Red Bull Racing it was a case of applying one rule to me but a different rule to the others?
What other options were open for you on remain on the F1 grid?
Pirelli called me to be their test driver which was pretty good for me as I kept on practicing with F1 tyres and developing their tyres for 2013. I was keeping up to speed on the car designs and was keeping my training fit and ready to be back in F1 if the opportunity arose.
I needed to have a drive with a competitive team. There’s no reason to be running last with the backmarkers. Force India and Williams both approached me and initially the talks started going pretty well but as negotiations progressed they both started asking for money in order to be able to drive for them in 2013. I could see that for me, the game was over because there were drivers out there with bigger budgets who could buy racing seats. I was not even motivated to go and look for big companies to sponsor me or help me into F1.
It’s a system that I don’t think is healthy for the sport. I know it’s been there for many, many years and now moreso than ever. I think it’s very toxic for the sport.
I woke too late to see that because I was protected by a company that owned two F1 teams who sponsored me since the very beginning so I never had to worry about getting sponsorship. So I lost the battle; both teams offered to keep me as a reserve driver but basically at that time and even now, you don’t do much as a reserve driver. I wasn’t motivated by that either, so 2013 was lost too.
For every graduate like Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, the Red Bull pathway is seemingly littered with the names of other drivers who were dispensed with very suddenly and (arguably in your case) quite inexplicably. Having gone through the program and with the benefit of some years of distance, what are your thoughts on the Red Bull driver program? What changes, if any, would you recommend are undertaken to better support and nurture young drivers?
I think the Red Bull Junior operation is a great program. Thanks to them, we owe everything to Red Bull. They were the first ones to point at us and support us and take us to the next level. Obviously we have to perform and we have to deliver with results and this is what the Red Bull junior program is made for: to develop young drivers into the very best and become World Champions.
I thought it was going to be a bit different of course; normally you have to be judged with the tool that you are driving. But also in life it is like that you are going to be judged with what you have and what you are. Someone like Vettel was at the right place and right time and he did a great job and he owns it. We have to face the objective and constructive facts.
Red Bull helped me to make career in F1 and a living in racing. I have changed my path now but I have learned a lot.
Having someone pressuring you over the phone when you are 15 years old and telling you that you have to win this race otherwise we are going to destroy your racing career, it’s a game changer. You have to perform, life is not very different to that. Yes, Dr Marko is tough, but it’s not really different to what you are going to get in real life.
I’ve just written a book; the first person who I sent a copy to is Dr Marko. I am so grateful for what he did to me, grateful for all that the Red Bull company has done for me. They have educated me to become a better human, a better professional. Overall it was just positive, even if I didn’t become a champion in F1, I owe everything to them. This is like, we have to be very honest with that and face this situation. I think it has a lot of value.
You later landed a role working with the BBC on its Formula 1 coverage for 2012. What were your duties and how did you find the transition to being on the other side of the journalist-driver interaction? Did you have a different appreciation for the relationship between drivers and the media having experienced both sides of the equation?
Just two months before the Australian Grand Prix in 2012, I was racing in Brazil and almost finished in the points. For me to be seen and especially feel like and be treated like a journalist was very difficult process for me.
I never studied journalism, so I didn’t feel like I should be in a position where I was commenting on camera and being an ‘F1 expert’. I don’t think I am a F1 expert – no one is an expert as the sport and the people in it are always evolving.
It was very weird to be honest, it was really strange to feel myself in that position. I don’t regret doing that because I met other people, I had another experience. It was another adventure and I met great people like James Allen – he was a super nice guy and treated me so well. I really liked to work him, people who are passionate about what they were doing. The entire BBC team was great. They treated me so well and it was nice to work with a British company like the BBC.
Would I do it again? Definitely not. I wouldn’t go back to be a journalist in F1 or comment on F1 races. It’s not part of my dream or my skillset.
Electric racing is not so electrifying…
You later joined the Formula E Drivers’ Club, enabling you to be picked by any of the Formula E teams to race with them. What was the attraction of this new all-electric championship?
It was a period where I was thinking a lot, my music work was growing. I went to LA with my girlfriend and we lived in Venice Beach for about three months. I was training a little but mainly making music.
Then one day [Formula E CEO] Alejandro Agag called me and he told me he was launching the Formula E Championship, the first electric championship in the world and the Virgin Racing team was interested in me driving for them.
At that time, I didn’t really know where I should go because I knew a return to F1 was going to be impossible because I didn’t have the budget. I’d recently had a DTM test for BMW which went very well, and despite signing a contract I was later beaten to a race seat by another driver with money.
I decided to take the Formula E offer and give racing one last chance. I wanted to see if I was able to gain confidence in racing and have some future in my eyes.
Given the differences in transmission, power delivery, car weight, tyres and racing regulations, there were significant differences between Formula 1 and Formula E. How did you have to alter your approach to driving these new cars compared to F1?
It was a completely different method of driving; you cannot compare that car to any other car in the world. We had a season where we had loads of problems, we never knew what was going on inside the car, we didn’t have any testing and the team was just building up. It was very crazy and difficult situation; it was probably my worst season of racing.
We were fast at some points but it’s not a question of being quick in Formula E, it’s about being energy efficient – even if you started last, you could win a race. It required a completely different mindset to forget about the actual racing and harvest as much energy as possible by braking 300 metres before a corner.
To be very honest, I never enjoyed driving the Formula E car – I just didn’t feel it.
However I wish nothing but the best to the championship. It is a great alternative to other racing series and I really hope it’s the future for racing. The major manufacturers are investing in the championship and it has developed well over the years.
The first half of the 2014/15 season was going well, with four points’ finishes in the first six races, including fifth at Punta del Este and a fourth at Buenos Aires. But at the end of the Moscow ePrix, the penultimate event of the season, came the alarming news that you had fainted after the race and would miss the season-ending double-header in London. What happened?
For me that was a point in my life where I was not happy. I remember at the Berlin ePrix I was talking to [teammate] Sam Bird while we were going to the gym. I was telling him that I didn’t want to do this anymore, I’m wasn’t enjoying it. I didn’t want to be there, I just wanted to be in the studio making music.
My heart was somewhere else. I was dedicating my time to racing which I no longer wanted to do, and I wasn’t able to give it 100% of my energy. Added to that I was having technical issued with the car, the results weren’t coming in and everything was starting to go wrong.
With all those stresses I just collapsed after the race. It had never happened in my life, but clearly it was a signal that I had to stop, I needed a change in my life.
At the end of the season came the shock announcement that you would retire from all forms of motorsport at the age of 25. Why had you “fallen out of love with this girlfriend”?
Red Bull designed me to become the best at my job. I won the British Formula 3 Championship, I stepped into F1. I had a job to do: to beat my teammate. I did enough to deserve a better car, but that didn’t happen and for me that destroyed my head.
I couldn’t imagine myself out of F1 especially because the decision was – for whatever reason – taken at the wrong time of my life. I was in the best moment of my life and it was so unexpected. It was like a big crime all of a sudden; all of my life plans just fell apart.
So I had to regroup, but whatever I did afterwards – GT racing, go-karts, Formula E, a little bit of journalism – I never found my happiness there, I never felt motivated enough to become the best at that job.
So I asked myself: “Are you learning something else in here that you haven’t learnt so far?”, and the answer was very simple. I was not learning,
I was not developing myself ethically. I was not developing myself professionally. I didn’t feel myself. I wasn’t surrounded by the people that I wanted. I didn’t feel motivated by what I was doing at the time.
I was never a question of money. Trust me, I earned a little bit of money in F1 and I never strapped on a helmet when I was six or seven years’ old to become famous or in the papers or to make a lot of money. I put the helmet on to smile while I was driving and enjoy it.
At the moment I stopped having this feeling – well, I had to collapse before! – I quit. So many people asked me why I retired and there are honestly many reasons. That’s why I put it all together in a book – it’s so complex and many things happened around me that led to the decision.
One of the biggest factors was my love of music. It was fulfilling my life, making me a better human being, educating me, culturing me. Racing was part of the past.
Life is about adventures and chapters; I had my chapter in racing, it was a great ride that I enjoyed but it was enough. I wanted to do something else, I wanted to move on, move forward. I wanted to learn from people, meet people, travel and learn different cultures, make great records and release them with the best labels in the world. That’s my next challenge and its happening. I feel inspired and motivated by this, it’s great. There is no money in the world that can pay for this feeling. There’s no World Championship in the world that can pay this feeling.
Do you harbour any lingering regrets that you may have quit too soon?
Not at all. I am in the best moment of my life right now. I recently finished a mindfulness course and I did it because I just wanted to meet the better version of myself and go deeper in all ways, especially spiritually. What was I when I used to race? Who was I and who am I now? What are the differences and what am I going thorough?
I’ve seen a kid when I was racing who wasn’t ready to deal with the world, to deal with the press, with the people around them. This happens especially when you are too young and everyone is smiling to your face. When you start to get some money in, these things start to change and it’s very natural to find that difficult to deal with in an objective way.
But I feel I am much more complete now, much more ready for life. I don’t regret anything from the past and any decisions, even the bad ones – the ones that have been mistakes or didn’t work out in the best way out of the car – I’ve learned from them. Experience is the result of all your mistakes, that how I see it.
Do you actively follow Formula 1 or Formula E today, and what are thoughts on either series in their current form?
I don’t follow either series, sadly. It’s a shame because I would love to answer that question in a positive way, I would really love to say I do but I can’t say it.I have other passions occupying my life.
I don’t have anything against racing. I love motorbikes, I love MotoGP and I watch every single race. I have some friends racing there and I enjoy every single moment with these guys, it’s incredible how they drive and battle between them.
In terms of other series, they are now engineers’ championships. The rules are written by the designers and engineers, which I don’t agree with. I don’t find it thrilling to have the same winner and that seemingly all risk has been taken away. I’m not saying that safety developments should stop, but I think adding a bit more risk and unpredictability would improve the show to the point that the human skill factor has much greater emphasis than the technology.
That’s my point of view and a lot of people can disagree with that. No matter what tyres you use, how the turbo-hybrid cars sound, that’s not the future of racing. Youngsters are now playing on simulators and e-racing; this is a major factor in the decline of the audiences across all championships.
You’ve enjoyed an increasing worldwide profile in the music industry. How are you finding this phase of your life after motorsport?
Thank you, I don’t consider that I have a worldwide profile yet. I’m a hard worker this is one of the lessons I transferred from my time with Red Bull. I don’t consider myself as a super-talented guy, I just work hard.
I found that in F1. Sébastien Buemi is a fantastic and amazing driver, he has so much talent. I think I understood that in our last year together in F1 and perhaps played my cards a little bit better than him which is how I managed to beat him. But I don’t think I am much more talented than him, not at all.
It’s a question of understanding what you have inside you, playing the role and of course working so hard, understanding what you have around you. I’m finding this phase of my life amazing, to be honest. For instance, DJing is something I wanted to do part-time, but I don’t consider myself DJ.
I DJ here and there but my job is to build and create music and that’s what I do, that’s my daily job. I’m in the studio every single day for eight hours modulating and creating sounds that mix together to make music. So that’s my real job and that’s magical, the best thing I could ask for in life, it’s so fulfilling.
It’s incredible to make music – the art creation, the creative side of music is very challenging and really interesting.
How can fans learn more and support you?
I spent the past two years writing my book and it’s been a great ride. For the first time I could talk about the things that happened to me that I could ever explain to the press because you are inside a circus and you’re being controlled like a puppet in terms of what you say. In that environment you can’t really be yourself and now for the first time I have my own project, my own baby, which is SQUIRE where I can truly be myself. I feel free.
Somehow, I could reconcile these sides – my present, past and future – and I wanted to make sure that everything I felt was written. It’s a book that will hopefully motivate young people to understand what they want to do with their lives, to make them feel clear and understand which path and which roads they want to take.
I’m not going to decide for them. I’m nobody to tell them what they should do and what decisions they should make. I’m just honestly and humbly explaining a story that happened to me, the reason why I reinvented myself into something I never knew I had the possibility to do that. I could never expect that I would release records with the best labels in the music industry, in my genre, for the first time. If I can do it, you can do it too.
Don’t look at me as extremely talented, I’m a hard worker. This book is a reference to people that they can really believe in themselves and there are many techniques to do that. To meet yourself better and understand who you are – go further than that, go deeper than that – and push yourself further and beyond.
This is what Red Bull did to me and it was great and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned my lesson and thanks to that I keep on developing and challenging myself and moving forward. What I tried to do in writing this book is make you feel that you can do it too.
There is a hero inside all of us, and you just have to find it. I’ve really enjoyed the whole process of writing, I’ve never written a book before and it was so much fun. I had enough time to do it the way I wanted, hopefully we will get it translated into English, I’m really going to push to make that happen.
Images via Current E, FIA Formula E Championship, Jaime Alguersuari, Red Bull Content Pool
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