Bruno Senna’s recent appointment at Williams at the expense of Rubens Barrichello could be seen as cantaloupe for both Brazilians, given it inherently signifies the end of Ruben’s F1 career, whilst marking Bruno’s bona fide métier after he missed out on a plumb Brawn seat in 2009. Though Williams may be at their lowest ebb since 1977, a full-time gig for Bruno could be the tonic both he and Williams need for genuine improvement.
Bruno’s single-seater career shares much in common with Damon Hill’s (and not just by lineage), as both their competitive lives were put on hold after tragedy struck their respective families (with the death of Bruno’s uncle Ayrton and Damon’s father Graham respectively). Although Bruno’s predicament was not as financially crippling as Damon’s, Senna’s enforced sabbatical from the sport (on request from his mother Viviane) precluded beneficial single-seater experience that (like Damon) Bruno has had to catch-up on in record time.
It’s fair to say that Senna’s time at HRT (much like Hill’s 1992 season at Brabham) was spent wrestling a veritable shitbox, and would never be destined to set the F1-world alight. Nevertheless, even after losing his seat, Bruno never let his head drop, taking drives with Team Oreca at Le Mans in an effort to stay race fit. Such efforts do not go unnoticed, as Hill can attest after gambling borrowed cash on one-off drives in the lower level British F3000 championship and Le Mans appearances for Richard Lloyd Racing, where the engine failed after 228 laps!
When Damon tested for Williams in ‘92 he did so at a time when test-drivers could actually test! Giving Hill much needed seat time and invaluable experience in setting up a car. You only have to look at Paul Di Resta’s impressive debut season with ForceIndiato realize how the DTM series has given Di Resta fundamental grounding in this area. Even given his relative inexperience after being promoted to a full-time Williams race seat in ‘93, Hill’s ability to out-qualify and withstand more pressure than a Flamanville reactor from three-time World Champion Alain Prost in various Grand Prix was the mark of a new found maturity and a man at home with his surroundings.
Just like Hill, the fundamental speed is there with Senna, but despite qualifying a superb seventh for Renault at Spa last year (ahead of Fernando Alonso no less), being thrown in at the deep-end half-way through the year won’t exactly give you the self-possession one needs to put a mistake-free race together – let alone a solid, albiet fragmented season (yes – a contradiction in itself!)
So finally, a full-time seat complete with pre-season testing awaits the young Senna. In addition, the recent departure of Patrick Head and acquisition of ex-McLaren man Mike Coughlan could provide a new dynamic within Williams that may prove perfect timing for Bruno in which to build the kind of meliorism even Jenson Button took years to build.
That’s if Bruno doesn’t mind giving up his Friday drives to Valtteri Bottas that is…