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“Thoughts on Jaime Alguersuari and Sergey Sirotkin”

July 22, 2013

This week’s Hungarian Grand Prix will mark four years since Jaime Alguersuari became the youngest ever driver in the Formula One World Championship.

Now pushing two years since he was drop-kicked from F1, Yet Alguersuari’s story could well be about to repeat itself for one young Russian should lessons learned be forgotten. Enter stage right, Sauber youngster Sergey Sirotkin.

It seems almost incredible to say that time has run short for former Toro Rosso Formula One driver Jaime Alguersuari.

A reject from the minnow team – acknowledged as the final step in the Red Bull young driver programme, the Spaniard is facing a future outside the category’s golden gates.

Now four years on from his Formula One entry, the 23-year-old appears to have almost faded from memory – his name cast to the history books some twenty-one months since his final race.

At the time of his début at the Hungaroring in 2009, Alguersuari became the youngest driver to compete in an F1 World Championship event at the age of 19 years and 125 days.
Many criticised the promotion of Alguersuari with some of his fellow drivers, journalists and commentators claiming the Spaniard’s youth and inexperience would be an on track hazard, yet on track was never where Alguersuari was going to struggle. If anything the then teenager had shown himself to be a more than capable competitor prior to his Hungarian adventure {note 1}.

While the young Alguersuari had proved his metal behind the wheel, it arguable whether he had matured enough as a person to cope with the pressures of Formula One, both in terms of politics and the inevitable fame that come with the job.
Listening to his pit-to-car radio was at times was quite fascinating, for while Alguersuari was undoubtedly at one with the manner of machinery he was driving, the tone of his voice often betrayed a pilot skimming nervously along the edge of an increasingly pressurised situation.
So while never appearing to stray so far into the realms of fame that his performances became detached, one could question how capable the young Spaniard was when it came to absorbing Formula One’s often caustic political atmosphere.
Although Alguersuari had seen off some top talent in the junior categories, it could be argued that youthful exuberance and confidence was playing its hand during the formative years.

And it is these pressures that Sergey Sirotkin will have to face up to should he be granted a superlicence and a drive with Sauber in 2014.
Currently 9th in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, Sirotkin has performed relatively well in his début season, but the 17-year-old is still very far from the polished entity he needs to be should he make the jump to the top level.
From a practical point of view, the Russian racer has drastically less experience than those he is currently competing against, including a very brief stint in go karts. One-and-a-half seasons in the sub-F3 Formula Abarth Series, followed by concurrent spells in Auto GP and Italian F3 have beefed up Sirotkin’s on track experience, but questions remain over the strength – or lack thereof – of the opponents he has thus far encountered {note 2}.
He’s quick – there’s no doubt about that, but how he handles the world of Formula One is entirely different matter. Yet like Alguersuari, it is in the area of mental preparation and maturity that Sirotkin may suffer. Should there be even the slightest chink in that armoury, then he may well get destroyed before he reaches the end of his teens.

Since his ejection from Toro Rosso, Alguersuari has become one of Pirelli’s F1 tyre tester alongside Lucas di Grassi {note 3}; however with each passing day the possibility of the Spaniard’s return grows ever dimmer {note 4}.

As a motorsport journalist, I worry Sirotkin is being propelled to the top level far too quickly and in a very short space of time, we may end up referring to the Moscow native in the same manner that we now address Alguersuari.
This would not be the first time national backers have pushed a driver into Formula One for sake of commercial interests and it is a situation that has rarely ever delivered a positive outcome.
And that will be a great shame; not just for Russian motorsport, but moreso for Sirotkin.

{note 1}
After finishing runner-up in the Formula Renault Italia Series in 2007, Alguersuari became the British Formula 3 champion a year later with Carlin Motorsport, pipping teammate Oliver Turvey with a late spree of victories. Promotion to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series followed in 2009, during which Alguersuari earned a victory at Portimao and an additional two podia on his way to 6th in the points.

{note 2}
Judging the success of a driver in junior categories is more about analysing the strength of one’s opponents rather than the achievements on the results sheet. Although one can forgive Formula Abarth its relative weakness – it can technically be counted as an entry-level category – Auto GP has less room to manoeuvre and fewer excuses. While an interesting category, its field has never been the strongest in any way shape or form. Success in Auto GP says more about the level of talent therein at any particular time than it does a driver’s talent.

{note 3}
Since his final Grand Prix, another red flag has been raised regarding the strength of Alguersuari’s desire to return to Formula One. While still testing occasionally in the 2010 Renault R30, a lack of race combat in those twenty-one months may be further stifling any hope of a comeback. On top of that, his once advantageous position as tester with Pirelli may well have been diminished by last week’s Young Driver Test, which itself became a partial Pirelli outing, albeit in current machinery. Alguersuari may still be doing the miles, but he is doing so in increasingly outdated cars.

{note 4}
Beyond his Pirelli duties, Alguersuari has been busy outside of motorsport, mainly with his alternative passion of composing and performing house music under the pseudonym Squire. With mildly regular performances on podcasts, shows and radio programmes, this secondary passion is inadvertently building a barrier that may permanently block his return to the top-level motorsport.
The saddest part about Alguersuari’s current situation is that he was improving and although there was little evidence that pointed to the Spaniard being a potential future world champion, he had delivered enough good performances to solidify his place in Formula One.

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