Will Gray

Gray Matter: The Red Bull driver factory

Will Gray

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When Jaime Alguersuari (pictured) steps off the Red Bull driver
production line this weekend he will become the latest in a long line of Red
Bull F1 graduates who have either been backed by the sponsor or come through the
'Red Bull Junior Team' driver training programme. So how does he stack up
against those who have gone before?

Some graduates are now F1 stars, some are floating in the
F1 sidelines, some have already fallen by the wayside and the remainder have
now retired...

According to Red Bull, Christian Klien was the first
official Red Bull Junior to graduate to Formula One when he qualified 19th
and finished 11th for his first race, in a Jaguar, in 2004. He went
on to race 46 times, starting Jaguar then continuing when it was bought by Red
Bull.

Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed followed in 2005, with
Italian Liuzzi qualifying 15th and finishing eighth in his first F1
race in a Red Bull and American Speed joining Toro Rosso to qualify 16th
and finish 13th on his debut. Liuzzi went on to race 39 times with
Toro Rosso and Red Bull and is now an F1 test driver while Speed completed a
total of 28 races for Toro Rosso before being ousted and returning to the US.

Patrick Friesacher also stepped up from the Junior team
to briefly race for Minardi in 2005, qualifying 16th and finishing
17th on his debut but only completing 11 races.

The most successful Red Bull graduate is current title
challenger Sebastian Vettel, who is the only one so far to have won an F1 race.
He also had the best debut, qualifying eighth and finishing seventh in the USA in
2007 - although he was racing for a BMW-Sauber team that was running
strongly at the front of the field that year.

Sebastien Buemi is the only other graduate currently
racing at the top level, and he has put in some impressive performances for
Toro Rosso this year having qualified 13th and finished seventh on
his debut in the Australian Grand Prix.

There have also been several drivers who have been
supported by Red Bull or who have driven for their lower level teams that are
not defined as 'Red Bull Juniors' and did not graduate fully through the driver
training scheme.

One of these, Dutch driver Robert Doornbos, made his
debut with Minardi in 2005, qualifying 17th and finishing 18th,
and also raced for Red Bull but started only 11 times. Enrique Bernoldi was
also backed by Red Bull, racing 29 times for Arrows, but was the only one of
all 10 who failed to finish his debut, spinning off after qualifying 18th.
And Narain Karthikeyan, who was also supported by Red Bull, drove 19 races for
Jordan, completing the full 2005 season having started an impressive 12th
on his debut and finished 15th.

But for Alguersuari, the focus will be on team-mate
Buemi, as his debut is the closest and most relevant to his own.

Team boss Franz Tost has declared he is not expecting anything
from Alguersuari in "at least the first three races" because he,
unlike any other graduate before him, has never driven the car he will be given
for his debut this weekend.

The lack of testing this season has put anyone coming in
mid-way through the season at a major disadvantage - but Toro Rosso clearly
believe that even without driving the car Alguersuari can still do better than the
man he replaced, Sebastien Bourdais.

Alguersuari has, of course, driven F1 machinery before,
but it is the understanding of a race weekend and details like how track
conditions change from practice to qualifying that can only come with
experience. Many of the Red Bull graduates before had experienced at least some
of this by participating as third drivers, something that is also now banned.

He has an advantage this weekend, however, as Toro Rosso
will have some significant upgrades to their car - which means it should be
right back up in the top ten, given sister team Red Bull's
recent performances. But to match Buemi's
stunning debut, Alguersuari will still have to learn quickly...

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