Will Gray

Gray Matter: The challenge for Senna

Will Gray

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The Senna name was back on the scoresheet last weekend for
the first time since 1993 - but what does young Bruno have to do to keep that
great name on the grid for 2012?

The sight of Bruno Senna in the familiar yellow helmet
with blue and green stripes sitting in a black and gold Lotus Renault during
the last two races has brought back memories of his late uncle Ayrton Senna's
early days in Formula One.

There's no getting away from a name - but rather than try
to shirk the responsibility of following in those famous footsteps, Bruno Senna
has embraced it and accepts the association has opened some doors along the
way. Now, however, he has his big F1 break, and there are no excuses.

Although he never set the world alight in the junior
categories, he was second to Giorgio Pantano in GP2 in 2008. But he then spent
a year treading water in the Le Mans series after missing out on a big debut
opportunity at Brawn in 2009 to compatriot Rubens Barrichello.

Instead, he arrived on the F1 grid in an HRT a year later
and could do little with it - but still managed to grab a test seat with
Renault, just before Robert Kubica was sidelined in his shock rally accident.

His plan was always to spend a year in the 'reserves'
before hoping to find a way to step up to the race seat, presumably in place of
Vitaly Petrov, for 2012. But when Kubica's replacement Nick Heidfeld flopped
his chance came early, in Spa, giving him eight races to impress.

His Renault debut saw him qualify in an unexpected seventh
only for his competitive challenge to be finished just after the first corner
through a rookie mistake. He managed to pick himself up from that, however, and
finish the race, gaining vital knowledge of the car and its handling in the
process.

Once race later, he was in the top-ten on the grid again
and, despite dropping all the way down to 18th through no fault of
his own to avoid the first-corner collision, he made it up to ninth by the end.

So far, things have gone ok for the young Brazilian and
while the pressure remains, the first hurdles are over and there is plenty to
build on.

His first two races with Renault have demonstrated three
key elements that could be key to him securing his future - his positive
attitude has immediately got the team behind him; he has managed to take knocks
and come back; and the eyes of Brazil have been lit up simply by his presence
in a competitive car.

Kubica's return date, or indeed whether he will return at
all, is still unknown - but if he does come back it could be tough for Senna to
displace Petrov, who has been a bit of a rock for the team this year, with
surprising pace and increasing maturity.

Even if the Pole does not complete his comeback, a seat
at Renault is far from guaranteed as Senna also faces stiff competition from Romain
Grosjean, the new GP2 champion and a driver who has also already raced in F1
with Renault and is a favourite of team boss Eric Boullier.

Senna has pledged his allegiance to his current team for
now, but he also has an eye on Williams, who are yet to ink a deal with
Barrichello and who, after a technical re-shuffle and a new deal with Renault
engines for 2012, could make a significant jump up the grid next year.

But wherever he is looking, Senna holds a trump card.

Brazil is surfing a wave right now as one of the strong
emerging BRIC nations, fast shaking off its reputation as a dangerous and
unstable country and becoming an important player in the global economy.

With the World Cup and Olympics heading their way in 2014
and 2016 respectively, the country's sporting buzz is growing even stronger and
football and F1 have long been Brazil's two passions.

So after years of 'nearly but not quite' from Rubens
Barrichello, the nation is ready for a new F1 star and its businesses, looking
for a presence on the global stage, have never been in a better position to
support that twin desire becoming a reality.

Senna now has six more races to prove he is a talent
beyond his name - and if he can convince Brazil of it, it's hard not to see him
somewhere on the grid in 2012...

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