It’s not often that you feel sorry for a Formula 1 driver.
But that was the reaction here in the Motor Sport office when we heard that Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were replacing Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari at Toro Rosso next year. We talked about Buemi and Alguersuari at length in our season review podcast (which will be online next week) and the general consensus was that neither driver had done anything particularly wrong. OK, they hadn’t set the world alight either, but who can in a midfield car nowadays when both drivers are so evenly matched?
“It just shows what a tough world it is in Formula 1, doesn’t it?” said editor Damien Smith at the time. “Two guys who haven’t really done a lot wrong and their F1 careers are in danger of being more or less all over.” Barring a last-minute deal at Williams or HRT their F1 careers are now over, or at the very least on hold.
If the sacking came as a shock to some, so did the admission by Alguersuari that only a week before he had been talking with Helmut Marko and Franz Tost about their future plans for him.
“I am very surprised by the decision,” said the Spaniard. “Just a week after winning the Challenge das Estrelas in Florianópolis I talked with Helmut and Franz and they told me they had plans for me in 2012.
“They did it with enthusiasm and showed me much confidence, they also asked me to be in Madrid on Monday for an event in which they told me to insist on our 2012 project in F1.
“So after talking with Franz and Helmut this morning, I thought of three things: first, I will not judge the situation because if I thought it was a crazy thing to make me debut in 2009 at only 19 years and three months old without having done a kilometre in F1 ever before, today’s news seemed to be a major misunderstanding in the best moment of my sporting life. I will not judge the reasons for the decision because Red Bull have given me everything since I was 15 years old. I’ve been formed with them, and I’ve become a complete F1 driver aged only 21.
“Second, I am not a victim because for seven years I have enjoyed the privilege of being in the best team in the world and with the best means. They brought me here, and with them I won the British F3 Championship at 18 years old and with them I have achieved the best results of a 21-year-old F1 driver in 2011. At the end of March I will turn 22, with 46 GPs contested. They have taken a decision that I respect, but I am left with an enviable amount of training at an emotional and a fitness level.
“Third, there is no drama because I have many plans for the present and the future. The surprise has lasted a couple of hours. I had the necessary talk with my family and I then realised that life is full of opportunities and challenges.
“Back in Spain and reading the headlines, I’ve come to realise that there are almost five million unemployed people in Spain, and we can only give back to this country with confidence and optimism, thinking about fighting and improving every day. And that’s what I’ll do starting tomorrow, I promise that to all the fans and the people who appreciate me.”
I’m struggling to remember the last time an F1 driver came out with such a measured and grown-up statement after being thrown out of a team. For what it’s worth, I would have retained Alguersuari for 2012 and put Vergne in alongside him. What would you have done?