On the road... with Ed Foster

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South Kensington, London
Another Senna in an F1 Lotus…
Lotus Renault reserve driver Bruno Senna on how his uncle fired his racing ambitions

Bruno Senna was running late. This wasn’t because he had been held up at a press conference, or because he’d been delayed by a visit to a race factory. He was stuck on the London Underground between Heathrow and South Kensington, where we were meeting to chat about his 2010 season in the HRT and his relationship with his uncle Ayrton.

Although Bruno’s Formula 1 experience has so far been limited to a ‘race’ seat — and I use that term loosely — aboard last year’s HRT and a reserve driver role for Renault this season, he remains one of the most grounded F1 drivers, especially considering who his uncle was. Not only was I shocked that he was using the Underground, I was even more surprised when he arrived and started apologising profusely.

Bruno Senna Lalli was always destined to race a car thanks to his uncle and grandfather’s influence, but on that fateful day at Imola in 1994 when Ayrton died at the wheel of his Williams FW16 everything changed. Bruno was 10 years old. “I remember watching the race — we always used to watch the race on Sunday morning in Brazil — and to start with no one knew what had happened,” he recalls.

“Once the information came through the environment and whole ambience in my family changed. It was really bad and suddenly the subject of racing became very touchy. For a while we just didn’t talk about it, and it was obvious from the way my family was dealing with it that I couldn’t race any more.” Up until then Bruno had been working his way through the karting ranks in Brazil and had shown plenty of promise.

“My grandfather [Milton] was the person who always took me to the farm to drive gokarts and he stopped that straight away. It was a change, and a big shock.” Ten years later, in 2004, when Bruno started racing in Formula BMW, Milton was still against the idea. “My relationship with my grandfather, which was so good before as I was always with him — I even lived with him for a bit — became really difficult. It was the only negative side of returning to racing as he became stricter with me. He’s better now, but it took more than five years.”

Milton wasn’t a racer himself, but he was an avid motor sport fan, and when his son Ayrton started to show an interest in cars he decided to fuel his passion by building a go-kart. “He found a chainsaw, took the engine off it, put it in a little chassis and let Ayrton loose. It probably wasn’t such a good idea, but he loved it.

“It was the same with me. Of course, it was a little more professional, but he still used a chainsaw engine. Before we had a go-kart track I used to drive it around the roads on the farm and actually used it as my main method of transportation.”

When Bruno was born in 1983 Ayrton was already on F1’s periphery. “The whole family was running or working around him,” he says. “As a boy I really looked up to him and from a very young age I was interested in cars. We soon started driving together when we went to the farm and we had some nice battles. Most of the time though he taught me about the other side of racing, the mechanics of the car, which really helps me now.”

In 2004 Bruno initially used his surname Lalli so that he wouldn’t draw too much attention to himself. “We thought about going with Lalli, and we did use it for a test, but everyone picked up on it and it looked like I was trying to run away from who I really was. After the test in the Formula BMW I gave up on hiding and went with Senna.

“It’s funny, I’ve actually inherited a few of Ayrton’s fans. Let’s just say that a few of them are positive, and a few are negative… It’s quite interesting the polarity effect these things can have. But most people just want to be in touch with something that was close to him. When they see my mother, my sister or me, they just want to talk to you and express how they felt about him. People were touched by his life and character, not just his racing. He was very different to how most other sportsmen are.”

The Senna name, coupled with his natural talent, has certainly helped Bruno progress through the lower ranks with astonishing speed. Six races in the Formula BMW championship, two seasons in British Formula 3, two seasons in GP2, a year in the Le Mans Series and a season in F1 aboard the woefully uncompetitive HRT is the sum total of Bruno’s racing career post-karting. That’s just five full seasons of car racing, which included second place in the 2008 GP2 series, to graduate to F1. However, when Bruno started racing in ’04 even he admits he was woefully unprepared.

“When I started my first race in Formula BMW I didn’t know how to warm up the tyres for the start. On the first lap I went off the road three times and I really didn’t know what to do. What made it worse was that I had Globo TV from Brazil — the biggest network in the country — filming it. Imagine that… I had no idea what I was doing and I had a TV camera following me the whole time. It was very hard, but because I’ve always had a lot of attention, a lot of criticism, I’ve learnt to cope with it.”

Many were calling for Renault to put Bruno in a 2011 race seat after Robert Kubica’s dreadful crash on the Ronde di Andora rally in February. However, team principal Eric Boullier opted for Grand Prix veteran Nick Heidfeld, and so far — with a third-place finish in the Malaysian Grand Prix — it looks like he made a good decision. In my eyes Bruno deserves to be on the Formula 1 grid, and in something faster than the HRT, but with more and more drivers paying for race seats will he get a chance? Even the Senna name carries no guarantees.

*

Woking, Surrey
McClaren’s new GT3 racer is ‘Just the start’
Race teams on alert as famed manufacturer launches new car

GT teams sat up and took notice when McLaren launched its new GT3 car on May 4. There are plenty of manufacturers in the cut-throat GT racing market, but this new car was always going to cause a stir.

I asked a current team owner whether or not he would be interested in racing the new McLaren, even though he currently uses a German rival, and he replied, “Well, it’s McLaren. You’ve got to sit up and take a look, haven’t you? You’ve got to take it seriously, and everybody will be watching it very closely.”

The Woking-based company has developed and built the GT3 in conjunction with CRS Racing (see On the Road, April issue) and is planning to race the car developed from the road-going MP4-12C in this year’s Blancpain Endurance series. GP2 race winners Oliver Turvey and Alvaro Parente have been brought in to the programme, and will pilot the development car alongside CRS founder and racer Andrew Kirkaldy. McLaren and CRS will homologate 20 customer cars for GT3 racing in 2012, and no doubt there is already an orderly queue forming…

“We want this to be the cheapest car to run on the grid,” said Kirkaldy during the launch. “We also want to limit production so that the residual value of the cars stays high.”

The race-ready GT3 machine will cost £310,000, which isn’t cheap. A Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 costs £289,500 plus tax, and a Gineffa G55 is £75,000. However it’s not bad value when you take into account that the road-going MP4-12C costs nearly £200,000 and that it will no doubt be competitive from the off after all the simulator work conducted by McLaren.

“McLaren Racing is able to bring new levels of technology to GT3 racing,” Formula 1 team principal Martin Whitmarsh told the audience. “No other GT3 car in 2012 will be supplied with a road car carbon chassis, or (below) a steering wheel and other associated technology from a Formula 1 car. The blend of road car and Fl technology and experience will be a great advantage to anyone racing a 12C GT3 in 2012.”

The car was due to make its debut on May 22 at Spain’s Circuito de Navarra after Motor Sport had closed for press and will no doubt be developed over the coming months into a seriously quick and attractive proposition. Whitmarsh also hinted that the car was “just a start”. Here’s hoping that it won’t be too long before we see McLaren back at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

*

Weybridge, Surrey
A bigger and better way to see F1
Mercedes-Benz world invites you to join it for every GP

My sister Alice has lately been desperately trying to persuade me that we need a new television at home. However the only time I want to watch something on a proper screen as opposed to one that is deeper than it is wide is during a Grand Prix.

Thankfully Mercedes-Benz World has come to the rescue. The venue is showing all of this season’s Grands Prix on its big screen in the Events Hall. These aren’t just simple screenings, either, as they include a display of recent Formula 1 cars from Mercedes GP, McLaren and Force India (above). The tracks at Mercedes-Benz World are also open during the day and there’s a driving display from the Silver Arrows Display Team.

If you want to watch the racing on a proper screen with good sound and don’t fancy answering questions along the lines of, “So, who is it Lewis Hamilton drives for again?” (sorry Alice, but you do), then head to Mercedes-Benz World. Just don’t go dressed in Ferrari team kit.
For further information simply log on to 1 www.mercedes-benzworld.co.uk p

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